Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The 2012 Ivey Awards at the State Theatre

The Ivey Awards is always my favorite theater night of the year, and this year's awards ceremony was my favorite of the six I've attended. Why? I saw seven of the ten awarded productions, the host was perhaps the best I've seen, I completely agree with the choices for this year's Emerging Artist and Lifetime Achievement awards, the featured performances included some of my favorite shows of the year, and I had a fabulous time at the after party with my blogger buddy The Playbill Collector talking to many of my favorite theater artists. That all adds up to perhaps the best local theater night I have ever experienced! Once again, I'm blown away by the level and diversity of talent in the Twin Cities theater community, and I'm truly honored to be a part of it in my own small way.

The hilarious Shanan Custer was a perfect choice to host this year's awards (as we have learned from TV awards shows, it's always better to ask a comedian). I didn't know who she was when she did a skit at last year's Iveys, but I have since seen her in several things, including one of my favorite shows at the Fringe this year. She was funny and charming and natural, a great guide to the evening's activities. Many of her funny words were written by Joseph Scrimshaw and Zach Curtis, but she ad libbed a bit too. After a particularly moving acceptance speech, she came on stage and said, "I'm crying already, I just want to make art!"

The show opened with a slideshow of the over 70 local theater companies, and then sadly, a rather lengthy "In Memoriam" segment (including the co-host of my favorite radio show, Tom Keith aka Jim Ed Poole). And then, the opening number. "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was Places!" (Reminding me of one of my favorite sounds in the world - "The call is places!" announcement at the Guthrie.) Beth Gilleland and Dane Stauffer gave a history of sound and light in the theater, with actors Brian Sostek, Katie Bradley, Madde Gibba, Taj Ruler, and Neal Skoy interpreting their words to amusing effect. As they've have done in the past few years, the Ivey people managed to turn what could be the most boring segment (thanking the sponsors) into one of the most entertaining. Shanan introduced a scene from that great American play, Angry People in a Living Room, starring the comedy team of Scrimshaw and Middleton as very dramatic brothers who just happen to name sponsors in their argument about whom their father loves most.

Ten Ivey Awards were given out this year. Many of last year's winners returned to present awards to this year's winners (for the shows that I saw, click on show name to read my thoughts at the time).
  1. Compleat Female Stage Beauty by Walking Shadow Theatre Company (Overall Excellence)
    I didn't really know what to expect from this play when I saw it, but I ended up loving it. A play about theater, gender roles, and figuring out your place in a changing world, with a great cast, costumes, and music - much deserving!
  2. Spring Awakening by Theater Latte Da (Overall Excellence)
    This was the least surprising award of the night. As the mythical and mysterious Ivey said, "this is the reason the Iveys were created." Such a gripping, energetic, and powerful production with amazing choreography and a fantastic young cast, it was a sure thing.

    Group hug!
    Peter Rothstein and the cast of Spring Awakening

  3. Miriam Monasch, director of Our Class by Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company
    This was a really powerful play about a group of friends, Catholic and Jewish, growing up in Poland at the time of the Soviet and Nazi invasions. I don't usually notice the direction (which I think probably means it's good), but when I think about the ten-person cast and everything that's going on in this play, and how smoothly and effectively it ran, it makes perfect sense that the director would be awarded for it.
  4. Barry Browning, lighting designer for Dial M for Murder by the Jungle Theater
    This was a deliciously tense murder mystery. Like direction, I tend not to notice lighting (again, that means it's effective), but thinking back, there were some creepy lighting situatious that added to the overall tone of the piece.
  5. Tracie Bennett, Judy Garland in End of the Rainbow by the Guthrie Theater
    Tracie so completely inhabited the legend that is Judy Garland, as well as the very human woman behind the legend, that I was sure that she was going to win a Tony (the show went on to a six-month run on Broadway after closing at the Guthrie). She did not. Instead, the British actress returned to Minnesota to pick up an Ivey. Who needs a Tony when the land of Judy's birth loves you!
  6. Ballad of the Pale Fisherman by Illusion Theater (Emotional Impact)
    I am so bummed I missed this one, but in my defense I didn't really know who Transatlantic Love Affair were at the time. After seeing their amazing Fringe show Ash Land, I now know that they're a truly inventive and lovely and heart-breaking physical theater company, and I will not miss another one of their shows.
  7. Hugh Kennedy, Don in Buzzer by Pillsbury House Theatre
    I would have given Hugh an Ivey for playing Hamlet at the Jungle last year, so I'm happy he got one for this intense little play. He played a privileged but underachieving recovering drug addict whose best friend is an underprivileged but now successful lawyer. He ranges from sympathetic to maddening throughout the play. And the great thing about this one is that if you missed it, you can see it at the Guthrie Studio Theater early next year (hopefully with the same cast).
  8. Julius Caesar by Theater Unbound (Inventive Reinterpretation)
    The idea of an all female production of Julius Caesar sounds completely amazing, how did I not hear about this? I just liked Theater Unbound's Facebook page so hopefully I won't miss any other good stuff.
  9. Joe Vass, Music Director of The Soul of Gerswhin by Park Square Theatre
    Another one I missed, sadly. If it comes back around I won't make that mistake again.
  10. Jody Briskey, Judy Garland in Beyond the Rainbow by the History Theatre
    I'm so thrilled that Jody's portrayal of Judy was not overshadowed by that other fabulous Judy this year. She plays a different Judy, younger and more in control of her life, so it's really not fair to compare the two performances. But she is definitely equally as deserving of this award.
This year's Emerging Artist is Isabel Nelson, co-Founder and co-Artistic Director of Transatlantic Love Affair. She directed the Ivey-winning production Ballad of the Pale Fisherman. As I said above, I was so moved by TLA's Ash Land at the Fringe this year that I plan to see everything this woman creates with this completely unique company, including a remount of their 2011 Fringe show Red Resurrected at the Illusion early next year.

The final Ivey awarded was the Lifetime Achievement Award, which went to Rick Shiomi, the founder and (soon-to-be-retiring) Artistic Director of Mu Performing Arts, one of the most influential Asian-American theater companies in the country. The interview/film package they showed was fascinating, as it told how Rick created this theater company and built the talent pool around it. I have enjoyed many productions by Mu over the last several years, including the incredible taiko drumming ensemble Mu Daiko, and I can't think of a more deserving recipient of this award this year.

Interspersed with the award presentations were six varied performances from shows this year. Musical numbers were accompanied by the fabulous Ivey band, led by Denise Prosek. The performances included:
  • A short scene from the Ivey-winning production Ballad of the Pale Fisherman that left me wanting more.
  • "The Bitch of Living" from Theater Latte Da's Ivey-winning production of Spring Awakening. Perhaps my favorite scene of anything I've seen on stage this year, I could watch it every day for the rest of my life and never tire of it. The choreography is amazing, the cast is energetic (as Shanan said, "I like those boys!"), it's fan-freaking-tastic.
  •  A truly bizarre and wonderful little scene from Psst! by Off Leash Area, a strange little workplace romance in which the actors wear not just masks, but full animal heads.
  • Regina Marie Williams and Austene Van in a number from Penumbra's Dinah Was. Another one I'm sorry I missed. When the magnificent Penumbra Theatre gets up and running again, I will not miss another one of their shows (please consider donating to help them get back on their feet!).
  • An appropriate closing number to the evening was a medley of songs from the Chanhassen's super-fun summer musical, Xanadu (closing this weekend!). I was a little concerned that Sonny Malone (aka Dieter Bierbrauer) would not make it home from the Tennessee Williams Theater Festival, where he was performing in George Maurer's Autumn Song, in time for the show. But gladly, he was there, along with Jodi Carmeli's they-call-me-Kira-because-that's-my-name and the rest of the fabulous cast. A great end to a wonderful show - this night was my Xanadu!
So ended an awesome celebration of Twin Cities theater. It truly was a wonderful evening that highlighted many theater artists and companies for the great work they did this year. If you're a local theater-goer and you've never attended the awards, you should go next year. It'll inspire you to go to even more local theater!

Celebrity Sighting
Too many to recount here!! On the red carpet, inside the theater, at the after party, it felt like every other person I saw was someone I've seen in a show. My blogger buddy The Playbill Collector and I made the rounds at the after party and talked to many of our favorites. Everyone was so gracious and sweet, and many said lovely things about my blog, which I very much appreciate. It was truly a pleasure to meet and chat with each and every one of you, and I look forward to seeing you again soon!

with Ivey winner Tracie Bennett