by CHRISTINE SARKES SASSEVILLE
The 11th annual Ivey Awards last evening recognized and showcased the work over the past year of the metro area’s professional theater companies and artists. Joe Dowling, the Guthrie Theater’s recently retired artistic director, was honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award. Critically-acclaimed newcomer, actor Mikell Sapp, who gave a moving acceptance speech, received the Emerging Artist Award for his work with Pillsbury House Theatre (Broke-ology, Marcus; or the Secret of Sweet), Penumbra Theatre (The Ballad of Emmett Till, Spunk), Freshwater Theatre (Ivey Award-winning The Beacon From Belle Isle), Mixed Blood Theatre (Pussy Valley) and BLACKOUT, an African American improv troupe based in the Twin Cities. Aisle Say Twin Cities has reviewed one of the three productions honored and four out of eight of the individual/ensembles productions.
Established in 2004 and named after a former post-show restaurant hangout for actors, the Iveys are unique among awards events in the country in that they are open to the public and that there are no nominees, set number of awards or pre-determined award categories, with the exception of the Lifetime Achievement and the Emerging Artist Awards (“We don’t do competition in Minnesota. We’re too nice,” according to the Church Basement Ladies performing from Plymouth Playhouse). Each participating theater receives a vote to determine the Lifetime Achievement and Emerging Artist Awards. Other prizes are awarded based on evaluations completed by the more than 150 volunteer theater evaluators who saw more than 1,000 performances created by 78 professional theaters in the Minneapolis-St. Paul seven-county metropolitan area from September 2014 through August 2015. Corporate sponsors foot the bill.
Local actresses Regina Williams and Christina Baldwin served as hosts of the event, charming the audience with their sass, wit, beauty and talent, at one point humorously drawing attention to the wage gap between male and female actors. Excerpts from recent shows entertained the audience between awards. Standouts were “A Happy Tune” from Disenchanted – Casting Spells Productions, Thurgood – Illusion Theater, Grounded – Frank Theatre and Detroit 67 – Penumbra Theatre. Other excerpts were:
• Jeffrey Hatcher’s Hamlet – Illusion Theater
• “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” from Mary Poppins – Chanhassen Dinner Theatres
• “Ivy League Baby” from River Road Boogie – History Theatre
• “The Wandering Wondering” from Jonah and the Whale – 7th House Theater
• “I Won’t Grow Up” from Peter Pan – Children’s Theatre Company
• Excerpt from Colossal – Mixed Blood Theater
In his Lifetime Achievement acceptance speech, Joe Dowling spoke passionately about the evolving nature of Twin Cities theater and the need to continue embracing change and diversity. The three productions and eight individuals/ensembles awarded 2015 Iveys seemed to match this theme:
Productions Recognized during the 2015 Ivey Awards:
Gabriel (Walking Shadow Theatre Company) – Overall Excellence
Nothing is Something (Open Eye Figure Theatre) – Overall Excellence
Crime and Punishment (Live Action Set) – Production Design
Brian Sostek and Megan McClellan – Choreographers & Playwrights: Trick Boxing (Park Square Theatre)
Peter Rothstein – Director: Romeo & Juliet (Ten Thousand Things Theater Company)
Claudia Wilkens and Barbara Kingsley – Actors: Gertrude Stein and A Companion (Jungle Theater)
Mathew LeFebvre – Costume Designer: The Mystery of Irma Vep (Jungle Theater) and A Christmas Carol 2014 (Guthrie Theater)
Shá Cage – Actor: Grounded (Frank Theatre)
Joko Sutrisno – Music Director: Prince Rama’s Journey (Green T Productions)
Steve Tyler – Music Director: The Pirates of Penzance (Ordway Center for the Performing Arts)
Ensemble – Actors: Marcus; or the Secret of Sweet (Pillsbury House Theatre)
The 2015 Iveys – including pre-event activities, behind-the-scenes interviews and the Awards show – will be featured in a two-hour primetime special on CW23 (The CW Network’s Twin Cities affiliate) on Sunday, September 27 from 7-9 pm CST. Despite a few glitches and awkward moments with presenters and awardees, the show is a local theater geek’s feast. I urge everyone to watch.