The Sterling Awards celebrate the season in Edmonton theatre: Onegin, Métis Mutt, Terry and the Dog lead the way

Josh Epstein, centre, in Onegin, Vancouver Arts Club Theatre. Photo by David Cooper

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

By Liz Nicholls,

A Canadian indie-rock musical hit that played its hot-blooded operatic passions with an irreverent light touch scored top musical production honours from jurors at the 31st annual Sterling Awards gala Monday night. And a solo coming-of-age story that played expertly along complex cultural and personal fracture lines, was its counterpart, in the play category.

As the theatre community celebrated the season on Edmonton stages at a bash hosted by actors Rachel Bowron and Hunter Cardinal (currently playing Hamlet in the park), Onegin, a Vancouver Arts Club offering brought to us by kindred spirit Catalyst Theatre, was voted outstanding musical production. And of its six nominations,  director Amiel Gladstone, whose playful production party-ed in two centuries with the audience, received a Sterling too — along with Jacqueline Firkins’ double-optic costumes and composer Veda Hill’s musical direction of the onstage actor-infiltrated band The Ungrateful Dead.

The musical director category is now, in this season of his passing, re-christened in honour of the late great Tommy Banks — a musician of note himself and an eloquent arts supporter and lobbyist. Banks’s singer-songwriter granddaughter Mallory Chipman performed Make Someone Happy (the pair had recorded it together). 

The season’s Outstanding Production honours went to Métis Mutt. The new incarnation (directed by Ron Jenkins) at Theatre Network of a show that — like its protagonist — has travelled widely, and resonates with a broader social reverb. Its charismatic creator Sheldon Elter took home the leading actor Sterling as well, for his memorable performance as … himself at every age in a harrowing story of domestic abuse, racial stereotyping, addiction, and reinvention. 

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

For the third straight year an Edmonton Actors Theatre offering directed by Dave Horak was voted the season’s Outstanding Indie Production. The protagonist of Collin Doyle’s Terry and the Dog is a man haunted by the reverberating sins of his alcoholic past, trapped in a cycle of second chances that doesn’t distinguish between present and past. It garnered the playwright the Outstanding New Play Sterling, and the supporting actor award for Cole Humeny’s performance as a son ricocheting between his inheritance and his hopes.

Amber Gray in Hadestown,
New York Theatre Workshop. Photo by Joan Marcus.

The jurors’ wide dispersal of Sterlings Monday night radically adjusted the proportions of their nomination list announced earlier this month. Of its eight nominations in 24 categories — the most of any show in the season — Hadestown, a high-octane collaboration between the Citadel and New York producers on a Broadway re-fit for Anaïs Mitchell’s folk opera/musical, came away with but two Sterlings.

One was for Amber Gray’s riveting supporting performance as  Persephone, whose annual departure for the Underworld leaves the earth wintry and bereft.  And one was for Bradley King’s masterly lighting in which the changes of the season, and the journey to the subterranean world, were inventively chronicled. 

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

The season’s second most nominated show with seven nods, also at the Citadel, Mieko Ouchi’s The Silver Arrow: The Untold Story of Robin Hood, took home a single award. It was for Jonathan Hawley Purvis’s choreography/fight direction, in a swashbuckler with every kind of weapon on, and above, the stage.

In sum, after juror voting, the 30 nominations for shows at Edmonton’s largest playhouse came to three Sterlings Monday night.

Nadien Chu’s starring performance in Pretty Goblins at Workshop West, as the sister who watches the self-destruction of her twin, garnered her the outstanding actress Sterling — in a category where her cast-mate Miranda Allen (and both performances in Atlas Theatre’s Going To St. Ives) were nominated.  

The Legend of Sleeping Beauty, Capitol Theatre, Fort Edmonton Park. Photo supplied

In a field that included music for “plays with music” The Silver Arrow, Shakespeare’s R&J, and Blood of Our Soil, the Sterling went to the versatile composer/musician/musical director Erik Mortimer, for his work on Jocelyn Ahlf’s panto version of Sleeping Beauty at Fort Edmonton Park. 

And in a category that included big-budget extravaganzas like Hadestown, Shakespeare in Love, and The Silver Arrow, Citadel productions all (in addition to a nomination for Megan Koshka’s Pretty Goblins design), the set design Sterling went home with Daniel Van Heyst  — for his atmospheric evocation of an Irish cottage for Shadow Theatre’s Outside Mullingar. Ian Jackson’s invaluable projections for Theatre Network’s Infinity, which located the characters deep within their intellectual pursuits, won the multi-media design Sterling. 

Coralie Cairns, Jenny McKillop, Glenn Nelson in Outside Mullingar, Shadow Theatre. Photo by Marc J Chalifoux.

Mieko Ouchi’s Consent, a play for young audiences on a difficult subject, took two Sterling Awards in the theatre for young audiences category — one for outstanding production, one for Mieko Ouchi’s double-achievement as playwright and director of the Concrete Theatre production.

The Fringe categories recognized were dominated by two small but high-impact indies: Impossible Mongoose, for Corben Kushneryk’s production of Jessy Ardern’s Prophecy, starring Carmen Niewenhuis; Bright Young Things, for Ron Pederson’s performance in Sartre’s  No Exit. But the outstanding new Fringe work Sterling was Louise Casemore’s Gemini.  

In a year of multiple readjustments in the showbiz industry, the gala included an acknowledgment of the #MeToo movement: a #WeToo version of Leonard Cohen’s Come Healing, with Larissa Pohoreski, Michelle Diaz, Jaimi Reese, and Hillary Warden. 

The Sterling award in administration, named for the legendary Margaret Mooney, went to Rapid Fire Theatre’s indefatigable and resourceful Karen Brown Fournell. The stellar four-decade career in production of Sheila Cleasby, a 36-year Citadel veteran, was recognized with a Sterling.

And the award for outstanding contribution to Edmonton theatre went to the puckish theatre artist Jan Henderson, an expert in the rarefied twin arts of mask and clowning, and a mentor/teacher of legendary generosity and influence.

And here they are, the Sterling Awards for 2017/2018

Outstanding Production of a Play: Métis Mutt (Theatre Network/One Little Indian Productions)

Timothy Ryan Award for Outstanding Production of a Musical: Onegin (Arts Club Theatre Company at Catalyst Theatre)

Outstanding New Play (award to playwright): Terry and the Dog by Collin Doyle (Edmonton Actors Theatre)

Outstanding Director: Amiel Gladstone, Onegin (Arts Club Theatre Company at Catalyst Theatre)

Outstanding Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role: Sheldon Elter, Métis Mutt (Theatre Network/One Little Indian Productions)

Outstanding Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role: Nadien Chu, Pretty Goblins (Workshop West Playwrights’ Theatre)

Outstanding Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role: Cole Humeny, Terry and the Dog (Edmonton Actors Theatre)

Outstanding Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role: Amber Gray, Hadestown (Citadel Theatre)

Outstanding Independent Production: Terry and the Dog (Edmonton Actors Theatre)

Outstanding Set Design: Daniel vanHeyst, Outside Mullingar (Shadow Theatre)

Outstanding Costume Design: Jacqueline Firkins, Onegin (Arts Club Theatre at Catalyst Theatre)

Outstanding Lighting Design: Bradley King, Hadestown (Citadel Theatre)

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

Outstanding Score of a Play or Musical: Erik Mortimer, Sleeping Beauty (Capitol Theatre)

Tommy Banks Award for Outstanding Musical Director: Veda Hill, Onegin (Arts Club Theatre at Catalyst Theatre)

Outstanding Choreography or Fight Direction: Jonathan Hawley Purvis, The Silver Arrow: The Untold Story of Robin Hood (Citadel Theatre)

Outstanding Production for Young Audiences: Consent (Concrete Theatre)

Outstanding Artistic Achievement, Theatre for Young Audiences:  Mieko Ouchi, direction/playwright, Consent (Concrete Theatre)

Individual Achievement in Production: Erin Birkenbergs, Technician

Outstanding Fringe Production: Prophecy (Impossible Mongoose)

Outstanding Fringe New Work (award to playwright): Gemini by Louise Casemore (Defiance Theatre)

Outstanding Fringe Director: Corben Kushneryk, Prophecy (Impossible Mongoose)

Outstanding Fringe Performance by an Actor: Ron Pederson, No Exit (Bright Young Things)

Outstanding Fringe Performance by an Actress: Carmen Nieuwenhuis, Prophecy (Impossible Mongoose)

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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