The year onstage in Sterling Award nominations

Amber Gray in Hadestown, Citadel Theatre, the season’s most Sterling-nominated show. Photo by David Cooper 2017.

By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca

An original folk opera/ musical that took us to hell and back was the top choice of jurors as the 31st annual Sterling Award nominations were announced Monday at Fringe Theatre Adventures headquarters.

The awards, to be presented June 25 at the Mayfield Dinner Theatre, celebrate the season just past in Edmonton theatre. 

Hadestown, Anaïs Mitchell’s song cycle spun from the myth of musician poet Orpheus and his fateful trip to the Underworld, arrived in its New York Off-Broadway incarnation for a pre-Broadway make-over at the Citadel. Rachel Chavkin’s imaginative production, a rare collaboration between New York producers and a theatre company a continent away, scooped up nominations in eight of the 24 Sterling categories, including top musical and director.

In addition to the supporting actress nod for Amber Gray’s sensational performance as Hade’s wife Persephone, there were Sterling nominations for the scenic design (Rachel Hauck), costumes (Michael Krass), lighting (Bradley King), choreography (David Neumann), and Liam Robinson’s musical direction. Curiously, Mitchell’s lush and jazzy score itself, Hadestown’s starting point and raison d’être, wasn’t recognized by the jurors.

Actor April Banigan hosted Monday’s announcement, the official preamble to the Sterling Awards gala. And the nominations were read by actor/ dancer Richard Lee Hsi and playwright/ director/ producer Megan Dart of Catch The Keys Productions.

Scott Farley and Kristi Hansen, The Silver Arrow: The Untold Story Of Robin Hood, Citadel Theatre. Photo by David Cooper.

If Hadestown ponders the accommodations we make to survive in a world that’s “hard and getting harder all the time,” the second most nominated production of the season, up for seven Sterling awards, has an activist streak. It’s the Citadel premiere of The Silver Arrow: The Untold Story of Robin Hood, which gathered nods for outstanding production, for playwright Mieko Ouchi, for Drew Facey’s set and costumes, for its array of visceral fight choreography by Jonathan Hawley Purvis. And for Scott Farley’s charming supporting performance as a steampunk inventor and romantic.

Maralyn Ryan, Robert Benz, Cole Humeny in Terry and the Dog, Edmonton Actors Theatre. Photo by Ryan Parker.

The other top Sterling nomination draws, with six nods each, embrace a striking diversity of small and large-scale theatre. Two are premieres that explore, in very different ways, family dysfunction fuelled by alcohol: Brian Dooley’s Workshop West production of Beth Graham’s gut-wrenching Pretty Goblins and Edmonton Actors Theatre’s production of the haunting new Collin Doyle, Terry and the Dog. 

Onegin, Arts Club Theatre. Photo by David Cooper.

From Vancouver’s Arts Club, the strikingly original Canadian indie-rock musical hit Onegin, directed by Amiel Gladstone and brought to us by Catalyst Theatre gathered six  nominations. And so did Daryl Cloran’s lavish Citadel production of the theatre-soaked romantic comedy Shakespeare in Love. 

Andrew Chown and Bahareh Yaraghi in Shakespeare in Love, Citadel Theatre. Photo by David Cooper.

The directors of all four of the above, along with Hadestown’s Rachel Chavkin, have outstanding director Sterling nominations.

Along with Pretty Goblins, Terry and the Dog, and The Silver Arrow in the Outstanding New Play category are Jana O’Connor’s larky and dexterous screwball Going, Going, Gone!, which premiered at Teatro La Quindicina. Lianna Makuch’s Blood of Our Soil, which drew from the diary belonging to real-life stories, memories, and a fateful diary to explore Ukrainian heritage, premiered in a Pyretics Production.

Sheldon Elter in Métis Mutt, at Theatre Network. Photo by Ryan Parker.

Three of the five outstanding production nominations went to Citadel shows, Shakespeare in Love, The Silver Arrow, and Stephen Karam’s mysterious and moving The Humans (a co-production with Canadian Stage). The other two are Pretty Goblins at Workshop West and Métis Mutt, directed by Ron Jenkins at Theatre Network. 

In the diverse array of acting nominations, from indie companies like Tiny Bear Jaws to established big-budget producers like the Citadel, are represented the entire casts of Terry and the Dog (Edmonton Actors Theatre), Going to St. Ives (Atlas Theatre), and Pretty Goblins (Workshop West). Ah yes, and Sheldon Elter, creator, star, and sole stage occupant of the remarkable one-person memoir Métis Mutt.

In all, the Citadel comes away with 30 Sterling nominations, the most of any theatre company by a long shot; half of them are for  Hadestown and The Silver Arrow. Workshop West received seven nominations, all but one for Pretty Goblins. And Edmonton Actors Theatre (Terry and the Dog)  and Theatre Network each received six. In the case of the latter, four are for Métis Mutt (a One Little Indian production) and two for Bradley Moss’s production of the Hannah Moscovitch fascinating time puzzler Infinity.

A first-time company in the Sterling nomination list is Tiny Bear Jaws (Elena Belyea’s Cleave).  In the theatre for young audiences categories, the Capitol Theatre’s panto Sleeping Beauty, Concrete Theatre’s Consent and Alberta Opera’s Jack and the Beanstalk are the contenders. 

Gala night, hosted by the team of Hunter Cardinal and Rachel Bowron (herself a nominee for the Fringe production of Legoland), will see Rapid Fire Theatre’s indefatigable producer Karen Brown Fournell get the Margaret Mooney Award for achievement in administration. The Ross Hill Award for career achievement in production will go to Sheila Cleasby, indispensible at the Citadel. And the Sterling for most valuable contribution to Edmonton theatre will be going home with clowning and mask specialist Jan Henderson, who has mentored generations of artists.

And here’s the list: the 2018 Sterling Award nominations:

Outstanding Production of a Play: Métis Mutt (Theatre Network/ One Little Indian Productions); Pretty Goblins (Workshop West Playwrights’ Theatre); The Humans (Citadel Theatre/ Canadian Stage); Shakespeare in Love (Citadel Theatre/ Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre); The Silver Arrow: The Untold Story of Robin Hood (Citadel Theatre)

Timothy Ryan Award for Outstanding Production of a Musical: Hadestown (Citadel Theatre); Les Feluettes (Edmonton Opera); Onegin (Arts Club Theatre Company at Catalyst Theatre); Children of God (Urban Ink Production at Citadel Theatre); Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (Plain Jane Theatre Company)

Outstanding New Play (award to playwright): Blood of Our Soil by Lianna Makuch (Pyretic Productions); Pretty Goblins by Beth Graham (Workshop West Playwrights’ Theatre); The Silver Arrow: The Untold Story of Robin Hood by Mieko Ouchi (Citadel Theatre); Terry and the Dog by Collin Doyle (Edmonton Actors Theatre); Going, Going, Gone! by Jana O’Connor (Teatro La Quindicina)

Outstanding Director: Dave Horak for Terry and the Dog (Edmonton Actors Theatre); Daryl Cloran for Shakespeare in Love (Citadel Theatre/Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre); Amiel Gladstone for Onegin (Arts Club Theatre at Catalyst Theatre); Rachel Chavkin for Hadestown (Citadel); Brian Dooley for Pretty Goblins (Workshop West Playwrights’ Theatre)

Outstanding Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role: Ric Reid, The Humans (Citadel Theatre/ Canadian Stage); John Wright, The Merchant of Venice (Freewill Shakespeare Festival); Andrew Chown, Shakespeare in Love (Citadel Theatre/ Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre); Robert Benz, Terry and the Dog (Edmonton Actors Theatre); Sheldon Elter, Métis Mutt (Theatre Network/ One Little Indian Productions)

Outstanding Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role: Holly Turner, The Testament of Mary (Northern Light Theatre); Nadien Chu, Pretty Goblins (Workshop West Playwrights’ Theatre); Patricia Darbasie, Going to St. Ives (Atlas Theatre); Miranda Allen, Pretty Goblins (Workshop West Playwrights’ Theatre); Belinda Cornish, Going to St. Ives (Atlas Theatre)

Outstanding Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role: Ryan Parker, Infinity (Theatre Network); Scott Farley, The Silver Arrow: The Untold Story of Robin Hood (Citadel Theatre); Glenn Nelson, Outside Mullingar (Shadow Theatre); Cole Humeny, Terry and the Dog (Edmonton Actors Theatre); Luc Tellier, Cleave (Tiny Bear Jaws

Outstanding Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role: Alana Hawley Purvis, The Humans (Citadel Theatre/ Canadian Stage); Andrea House, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (Plain Jane Theatre Company); Amber Gray, Hadestown (Citadel Theatre); Jameela McNeil, John Ware Reimagined (Workshop West Playwrights’ Theatre); Maralyn Ryan, Terry and the Dog (Edmonton Actors Theatre)

Outstanding Independent Production: Cleave (Tiny Bear Jaws); Shakespeare’s R&J (Kill Your Television Theatre); Blood of Our Soil (Pyretic Productions); Terry and the Dog (Edmonton Actors Theatre); Going To St. Ives (Atlas Theatre)

Outstanding Set Design: Cory Sincennes, Shakespeare in Love (Citadel Theatre/ Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre); Rachel Hauck, Hadestown (Citadel Theatre); Megan Koshka, Pretty Goblins (Workshop West Playwrights’ Theatre); Daniel vanHeyst, Outside Mullingar (Shadow Theatre); Drew Facey, The Silver Arrow: The Untold Story of Robin Hood (Citadel Theatre)

Outstanding Costume Design: Jacqueline Firkins, Onegin (Arts Club Theatre Company at Catalyst Theatre); Michael Krass, Hadestown (Citadel Theatre); Drew Facey, The Silver Arrow: The Untold Story of Robin Hood (Citadel Theatre); Cory Sincennes, Shakespeare in Love (Citadel Theatre/ Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre); Leona Brausen, Going, Going, Gone! (Teatro La Quindicina)

Outstanding Lighting Design: Martin Labrecque and Julie Basse, Les Feluettes (Edmonton Opera); John Webber, Onegin (Arts Club Theatre Company at Catalyst Theatre); Scott Henderson, Shakespeare in Love (Citadel Theatre/ Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre); Adam Tsuyoshi Turnbull, The Testament of Mary (Northern Light Theatre); Bradley King, Hadestown (Citadel Theatre)

Outstanding Multi-Media Design: Nicholas Mayne, Blood of Our Soil (Pyretic Productions); Ian Jackson, Infinity (Theatre Network); Matt Schuurman, Do This In Memory Of Me (Northern Light Theatre/ L’UniThéâtre); t. Erin Gruber, Métis Mutt (Theatre Network/ One Little Indian Productions); Rennet Siu, Empire of the Son (Vancouver Asian Canadian Theatre at the Citadel Theatre)

Outstanding Score of a Play or Musical: Hawksley Workman, The Silver Arrow: The Untold Story of Robin Hood (Citadel Theatre); Aaron Macri, Métis Mutt (Theatre Network/ One Little Indian Productions); Matthew Skopyk, Shakespeare’s R&J (Kill Your Television Theatre); Erik Mortimer, Sleeping Beauty (Capitol Theatre); Larissa Pohoreski, Blood of Our Soil (Pyretic Productions)

Outstanding Musical Director: Liam Robinson, Hadestown (Citadel Theatre); Veda Hill, Onegin (Arts Club Theatre Company at Catalyst Theatre); Erik Mortimer, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (Plain Jane Theatre Company); Allen Cole, Children of God (Urban Ink Productions at the Citadel Theatre); Don Horsburgh, Mamma Mia! (Citadel Theatre)

Outstanding Choreography or Fight Direction: Jonathan Hawley Purvis, The Silver Arrow: The Untold Story of Robin Hood; Laura Krewski, Mamma Mia! (Citadel Theatre); David Neumann, Hadestown (Citadel Theatre); Cindy Kerr, All Shook Up (Mayfield Dinner Theatre), Tracey Power, Onegin (Arts Club Theatre Company at Catalyst Theatre)

Outstanding Production for Young Audiences: Sleeping Beauty (Capitol Theatre); Consent (Concrete Theatre); Jack and the Beanstalk (Alberta Opera)

Outstanding Artistic Achievement, Theatre For Young Audiences: Santee Smith, choreography, Minosis Gathers Hope (Punctuate! Theatre/ Alberta Aboriginal Performing Arts); Megan Koshka, production design, Munch-O-Rama (Kompany Family Theatre); Jocelyn Ahlf, performance/playwright, Sleeping Beauty (Capitol Theatre); Richard Lee His, performance, Consent (Concrete Theatre); Mieko Ouchi, direction/playwright, Consent (Concrete Theatre)

Individual Achievement in Production: Gin May, technical director; Brad Fischer, technician; Chris Cavanaugh, production manager; Peter Locock, scenic carpenter, Patsy Thomas, head of wardrobe, Erin Birkenbergs, technician

Outstanding Fringe Production: No Exit (Bright Young Things); Evil Dead: The Musical (Straight Edge Theatre); Legoland (Blarney Productions); Prophecy (Impossible Mongoose); The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee (Uniform Theatre)

Outstanding Fringe New Work (award to playwright): Gemini by Louise Casemore (Defiance Theatre); Slack Tide by Bevin Dooley (Blarney Productions); Prophecy by Jessy Arden (Impossible Mongoose); Puck Bunnies by Darrin Hagen and Trevor Schmidt (Guys in Disguise); Rivercity: The Musical by Rebecca Merkley (Dammitammy Productions); With Glowing Hearts by Ellen Chorley (Send in the Girls Burlesque)

Outstanding Fringe Director: Stewart Lemoine, The Exquisite Hour (Teatro La Quindicina); Kevin Sutley, No Exit (Bright Young Things); Luc Tellier, Legoland (Blarney Productions); Corben Kushneryk, Prophecy (Impossible Mongoose); Perry Gratton, A Beautiful View (Precipice Productions)

Outstanding Fringe Performance by an Actor: Matthew Lindholm, Evil Dead: The Musical (Straight Edge Theatre); Ron Pederson, No Exit (Bright Young Things); Jeff Haslam, The Exquisite Hour (Teatro La Quindicina); Chris W. Cook, Slack Tide (Blarney Productions); Vern Thiessen, Gemini (Defiance Theatre)

Outstanding Fringe Performance by an Actress: Louise Lambert, No Exit (Bright Young Things); Carmen Nieuwenhuis, Prophecy (Impossible Mongoose); Nikki Hulowski, A Beautiful View (Precipice Productions);l Rachel Bowron, Legoland (Blarney Productions); Belinda Cornish, No Exit (Bright Young Things)

The Margaret Mooney Award for Outstanding Achievement in Administration: Karen Brown Fournell

The Ross Hill Award for Career Achievement in Production: Sheila Cleasby

The Sterling Award for the Most Valuable Contribution to Theatre in Edmonton: Jan Henderson

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