What we learned at the Jessie Richardson Theatre Awards ceremony: diversity and inclusion are on the rise

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      Inclusion was the most salient value on-stage at this year’s Jessie Richardson Theatre Awards ceremony, held at the Commodore Ballroom on June 26.

      Not only did the ceremony feature ASL interpretation and a ramp at the front of the stage for winners to walk up, the 35th Jessie Awards also made it clear that the Vancouver theatre community is taking diversity seriously.

      In the spirit of inclusion, it’s fitting that Creeps took home the largest number of awards in the small-theatre category, including one for outstanding production. Realwheels Theatre’s show featured an integrated cast that included three actors with disabilities.

      Out of 70 eligible productions by more than 40 companies, no single production in any of the three categories won more than three awards.

      In large theatre, three shows each took three prizes: Touchstone Theatre’s Brothel #9; Bard on the Beach’s Pericles, which award-winning director Lois Anderson described in her acceptance speech as “one of the worst plays written by Shakespeare”; and the Arts Club Theatre Company’s Angels in America: Millennium Approaches, for which the Arts Club’s outgoing artistic director, Bill Millerd, accepted the award for outstanding production. “I’m going to miss you,” said Millerd, who announced his retirement earlier this year after more than 40 years at the helm.

      Luc Roderique, Jeff Gladstone, Kamyar Pazandeh, Kayla Doerksen, and Kayvon Kelly in Pericles at Bard on the Beach.
      David Blue

      Following a very entertaining welcome and blessing by Elder Bob Baker and the Eagle Song Dancers, the ceremony’s format was almost ruthlessly efficient: honorees were given just 50 seconds for their acceptance speeches, which made the proceedings fast but sometimes bloodless. There were surprises, though: accepting the evening’s first award on behalf of an absent Itai Erdal, Donna Soares did a spot-on impersonation of the lighting designer. Costume designer Carmen Alatorre made back-to-back trips to the podium, snagging the awards for both large and small theatre (for Pericles and the frank theatre company’s Walt Whitman’s Secret).

      The Fighting Season’s Kyle Jesperson highlighted the ongoing human cost of PTSD for Canadian Forces veterans from Afghanistan, praising “young theatre companies that have the guts to tell stories that are important”. Alexander Lazaridis Ferguson of Fight With a Stick accepted the Georgia Straight Critics’ Choice Innovation Award with praise for the community’s acceptance of interdisciplinary work like his Revolutions. And the youngest winner, Billy Elliot’s Valin Shinyei, thanked McDonald’s for its Oreo Cookie McFlurries, his favourite postshow indulgence.

      The winners included a number of emerging artists: Alexandra Lainfiesta, honoured for her performance in Green Lake, Brothel #9’s Adele Noronha, and Ithaka’s Yoshie Bancroft are relative newcomers. So are Randi Edmundson and Jess Amy Shead, whose Freddie in the Neighbourhood garnered two of the five awards in the Theatre for Young Audiences category.

      Actor and emerging playwright Quelemia Sparrow accepted the Sydney Risk Prize via video for her original script O’wet/Lost Lagoon. Olivia Hutt earned the Sam Payne Award for Outstanding Newcomer, and Jamie King, who won the Ray Michal Award for Emerging Director, recalled growing up very aware of the dedication of her parents, both local theatre professionals, to their work in theatre.

      Valerie Sing Turner, accepting the John Moffat and Larry Lillo Prize, remarked on the absence of role models for her childhood dream of being an actor, but the awards acknowledged that in 2016-17, Vancouver theatre made strides toward a more consistent reflection of our community’s cultural diversity. Frank theatre’s Chris Gatchalian won the Vancouver NOW Representation and Inclusion Award for an outstanding season that included Canada’s first-ever queer theatre conference, last summer’s Q2Q. And Diwali Fest’s Rohit Chokhani, winning a Significant Artistic Achievement Award for his festival programming’s contribution to diversifying Vancouver theatre, remarked on the pleasure of seeing “diversity acknowledged in a category that’s not about diversity”.

      For a complete list of winners, see here.