Celebrating the Edmonton theatre season: Irma Voth, Crazy For You, Stupid Fucking Bird lead the 30th annual Sterling Awards

Andréa Jorawsky as Irma in Irma Voth, Theatre Network. Photo by Ian Jackson/ EPIC Photography

By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca

Art and life got down, mixed it up, and partied together at the 30th anniversary Sterling Awards gala Monday night, celebrating the best of the Edmonton theatre season.

Three productions that, in dramatically different ways, spoke to the life-changing possibilities of art, and the windows it opens on the world, proved, overwhelmingly, the choice of jurors at the theatre bash hosted, in droll fashion by actors Mark Meer and Nadine Chu. 

In the Outstanding Production category top Sterling honours went to Irma Voth,Theatre Network’s premiere of the new Chris Craddock five-actor multi-character play ingeniously spun from Miriam Toews’s swirling novel about two sisters escaping the brutal paternal oppression of a narrow-sided ultra-conservative Mennonite colony in Mexico. Their window of possibility, with its view of the chaotic, inspiring world of art and artists is pried open by the arrival of a film crew.

Craddock’s stage storytelling garnered him the Outstanding New Play award, with leading actress honours as well for Andréa Jorawsky’s luminous performance as the plucky, open-hearted title heroine, and for Ian Jackson’s ingenious (and indispensable) multi-media design.

Andrew MacDonald-Smith in Crazy For You, at the Citadel. Photo by David Cooper

In the outstanding musical category, top honours went to the Citadel’s huge, irresistibly zestful production of Crazy For You. The musical, with its vintage songfest of Gershwin hits, chronicles the resurrection of a deadbeat Nevada mining town courtesy of … yes, theatre! 

Of its eight nominations, the most of any show, three other Sterlings arrived — in the hands of musical director Don Horsburgh, of choreographer Dayna Tekatch (also the director of the show), and of designer Cory Sincennes, whose riotous array of costumes chronicled the arrival of New York showbiz in the derelict Old West.

Robert Benz in Stupid Fucking Bird, Edmonton Actors Theatre. Photo by Nanc Price

For the second year in a row, the biggest Sterling magnet of the night proved to be an indie production from Edmonton Actors Theatre. Six Sterlings, including the director’s trophy and outstanding independent production went to Dave Horak’s production of Stupid Fucking Bird. Life and art have a more fractious relationship in this irreverent reboot of Chekhov’s The Seagull by the American playwright Aaron Posner, set in the world of artists who have a sneaking and unwelcome suspicion they might just be  spectators, and not real participants, in their own lives.

Mat Simpson and Melissa Thingelstad in Stupid Fucking Bird, Edmonton Actors Theatre. Photo by Nanc Price.

Three of the four actor Sterlings Monday night went to the cast of Horak’s production, including Mat Simpson’s starring performance as the struggling playwright Con, and the supporting work of Melissa Thingelstad as the play’s imperious grande dame actress and Robert Benz as the doctor who muses on time and disappointment. Stephanie Bahniuk’s witty set design, domestic cubbyholes at one end of a gangway and a stage at the other, with the requisite Chekhov birch trees, garnered her a Sterling, too. 

Beyond the focus of those three productions, Sterling jurors noted only T. Erin Gruber’s lighting for The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, a Citadel/ Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre co-production, and the score, by Jenny Boutros and Etelka Nyilasi, of The Maggie Tree’s 9 Parts of Desire.

The theatre for young audience Sterlings were divvied up between Punctuate! Theatre’s Bone Wars and Concrete/L’UniThéâtre’s Bello, a new Vern Thiessen play.

The Fringe Sterlings were dominated by The Fall of the House of Atreus: A Cowboy Love Song, the three-actor comic extravaganza Jessy Ardern fashioned from the Greek tragedy, and its ingenious high-speed Corben Kushneryk production. That irreverent bunch went home with three awards. The Fringe acting Sterlings went to Jayce Mackenzie (Salt Water Moon) and Robert Benz, his second of the night, for Scaramouche Jones, a veritable theatre history for one sad clown.

Sterling honours in administration, named for the legendary producer/administrator Margaret Mooney, went to the Citadel’s veteran Cheryl Hoover. It was presented by the Citadel’s new artistic director Daryl Cloran, who’s poised to be a considerable beneficiary of her multi-faceted expertise.The Ross Hill career achievement in production Sterling went home with Betty Hushlak whose work has enhanced every theatre in town. 

This was the year a new theatre opened from the bricks of an old; there was a slide show salute to the Varscona. There was a  tributes to Edmonton’s multi-faceted community theatre scene, hatchery for many of our working artists.

And speaking as we are of art and life, the Sterling for most valuable contribution to Edmonton theatre went to an artist who has understood, in every way in an exceptional 40-year (and counting) career, that theatre gets inspired, works, and proliferates by mentorship: actor/director/playwright/founder of theatres Maralyn Ryan. 

The explosive theatrical chemistry of talent, originality, passion, and discipline is built into the Ryan career every step of the way. And Edmonton has been the beneficiary.

The 2017 Sterling Awards

Outstanding Production of a Play: Irma Voth (Theatre Network)

Timothy Ryan Award for Outstanding Production of a Musical: Crazy for You (Citadel Theatre/Theatre Calgary)

Outstanding New Play: Irma Voth by Chris Craddock (Theatre Network)

Outstanding Director: Dave Horak, Stupid Fucking Bird  (Edmonton Actors Theatre)

Outstanding Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role: Mat Simpson, Stupid Fucking Bird (Edmonton Actors Theatre)

Outstanding Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role: Andréa Jorawsky, Irma Voth (Theatre Network)

Outstanding Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role: Robert Benz, Stupid Fucking Bird  (Edmonton Actors Theatre)

Outstanding Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role: Melissa Thingelstad, Stupid Fucking Bird (Edmonton Actors Theatre)

Outstanding Independent Production: Stupid Fucking Bird (Edmonton Actors Theatre)

Outstanding Set Design: Stephanie Bahniuk, Stupid Fucking Bird (Edmonton Actors Theatre)

Outstanding Costume Design: Cory Sincennes, Crazy for You (Citadel Theatre / Theatre Calgary)

Outstanding Lighting Design: T. Erin Gruber, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time (Citadel Theatre)

Outstanding Multi-Media Design: Ian Jackson, Irma Voth (Theatre Network) 

Outstanding Score of a Play or Musical: Jenny Boutros & Etelka Nyilasi, 9 Parts of Desire (The Maggie Tree in association with Theatre of the New Heart)

Outstanding Musical Director: Don Horsburgh, Crazy for You (Citadel Theatre / Theatre Calgary)

Outstanding Choreography or Fight Direction: Dayna Tekatch, Crazy for You (Citadel Theatre / Theatre Calgary)

Outstanding Production for Young Audiences: Bone Wars (Punctuate! Theatre 

Outstanding Artistic Achievement, Theatre for Young Audiences: Vern Thiessen & Brian Dooley, Writing and Translation, Bello (Concrete Theatre / L’UniThéâtre)

Individual Achievement in Production: Chris Kavanagh, Technical Director

Outstanding Fringe Production: The Fall of the House of Atreus: A Cowboy Love Song (Troglodyte Theatre)

Outstanding Fringe New Work (award to playwright): The Fall of the House of Atreus: A Cowboy Love Song by Jessy Ardern (Troglodyte Theatre)

Outstanding Fringe Director: Corben Kushneryk, The Fall of the House of Atreus: A Cowboy Love Song (Troglodyte Theatre)

Outstanding Fringe Performance by an Actor: Robert Benz, Scaramouche Jones (Blarney Productions)

Outstanding Fringe Performance by an Actress: Jayce Mackenzie, Salt Water Moon (Whizgiggling Productions)

The Margaret Mooney Award for Outstanding Achievement in Administration: Cheryl Hoover

The Ross Hill Award for Career Achievement in Production: Betty Hushlak

Most Valuable Contribution to Theatre in Edmonton: Maralyn Ryan


 

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