Things I learned at the Sterling Awards gala: a coda

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

By Liz Nicholls,

Thoughts from the Sterling gala (directed by Kate Ryan and written by Shannon Blanchet and Belinda Cornish).

•For openers: Co-hosts Rachel Bowron and Hunter Cardinal were sparklers. They opened the show with Beauty, a witty and astute song about reacting to art from Adam Gwon’s 2008 musical Ordinary Days. Needless to say, it’s not a household word in titles or composers. But this is but one of the dividends of having the Sterling gala directed by Kate Ryan of The Plain Janes, who knows the off-centre musical theatre repertoire, every nook and cranny, better than anyone in town. And there was an invocation in Cree from Cardinal, currently playing Hamlet in the Freewill Shakespeare Festival production in the park. 

•A new comedy duo: Margaret Mooney, the wry 81-year-old Citadel legend (sitting at Table 81 right beside me) and Citadel administrator Peni Christopher, onstage together to present the Ross Hill Award for Career Achievement in Production (to the Citadel’s Sheila Cleasby), are a riot together. Something a teeny bit Smothers Brothers maybe about the reductive deadpan of the former and the jaunty sunniness of the other.

•Shows I wish I’d seen and now it’s too late so damn I have regrets which is a drag: Seeing Jameela McNeil and Luc Tellier perform a very witty Erik Mortimer song about a cat from Sleeping Beauty, Jocelyn Ahlf’s Christmas panto at the Capitol Theatre at Fort Edmonton made me long to see this latest in her series of larky Christmas entertainments there. Seeing Amena Shehab onstage to present made me wish I’d seen Hagar, a show about the immigrant experience she created with her husband (it ran at the ATB Financial Arts Barns). She was genuinely funny about being the Arabic outsider. 

•Improv: Rapid Fire Theatre’s “Mother K,” Karen Brown Fournell, den mother to 60 improvisers (how easy can that be?) and manager of a company that does 300 shows a year, pointed out in her acceptance speech (she went home with the Margaret Mooney Award in administration), that it’s remarkable how many actors in this theatre town are also improvisers. Remarkable and telling.

It’s a supportive theatre community, she told us. Sometime we trade tricks of the trade,” she said of her fellow administrators. “Sometimes we just commiserate.”

•In accepting his Actor’s Sterling Award for his performance in the Bright Young Things’ Fringe production of No Exit, Ron Pederson said he wanted to thank Jean-Paul Sartre, but felt the French existentialist might not appreciate this advocacy. He thought it more appropriate to thank Sartre “for nothing, for nothingness maybe.”

In a witty, heartfelt speech, he paid tribute to his actor friend/mentor Jeff Haslam (currently directing The Importance of Being Earnest for the Teatro La Quindicina season). “We are in the transportation business,” said Pederson, as he saluted Edmonton for its supply of “brilliant storytellers.” 

•Upcoming: Actor/ director/ playwright Chris Bullough is writing a Fringe play — and it’s about the oil that runs through our veins. The inspiration for Rig Pig Fantasia can be traced back to Fort McMurray, where he’s originally from.

•Hot on the page: From 44 submissions, the grand prize winner of this year’s Alberta Playwriting Competition is Cipher by Ellen Close and Braden Griffiths. A special initiate award goes to Christine Lesiak for The Space Between The Stars.

•Everyone in the music world here undoubtedly already knew this. But Tommy Banks’ granddaughter Mallory Chipman (gracefully introduced by Sheri Somerville) is a terrific singer. Make Someone Happy (which she recorded with her beloved grandpa) was a knockout. Chipman said that Tommy loved vintage musical theatre; they’d watch the oldies together whenever they could. 

•Sending in the clowns: You can see why Jan Henderson, this year’s recipient of the Sterling for outstanding contribution to Edmonton theatre, is such an inspiring teacher, mentor, and friend. As introduced by her Small Matters Theatre cohort Christine Lesiak, the case she made for hopefulness, for being playful, for the fool as the truth-speaker in a world of truth-concealers, was downright inspiring. Henderson, incidentally, arrived here from Toronto in 1979 to do a show, and never got around to leaving.

A favourite Henderson saying? “As the Irish say, the situation is hopeless, but not serious.”

•In his graceful acceptance speech for the outstanding new play Sterling, playwright Collin Doyle (Terry and the Dog) took the trouble to note the other nominees in the category — and to add two new plays he felt should have been nominated. One was Cleave by Elena Belyea, the other Do This In Memory Of Me/ En Mémoire de moi by Cat Walsh.

His own play Doyel described as 12 years in the making. And he thanked his dad for “allowing him to keep writing plays about him.”

Indie theatre is hard: Dave Horak, artistic director of Edmonton Actors Theatre, explained that he tore down his fence to use the wood in the set for his production of Terry and the Dog. “I would like to thank my neighbours for letting me do it.”

He was droll, as well, on the subject of his cast. “It’s the first time I ever directed my mother-in-law,” he said. “Talk to me later.” He’s lucky: she’s  Maralyn Ryan, nominated in the supporting actress category.

•No one thanked their agent. Or the Almighty. But Amber Gray, of Hadestown, did thank terrible Edmonton weather last fall for the conception of her baby, about to be born in New York on Monday night when she got the outstanding supporting actress Sterling in absentia.

If you haven’t checked out the Sterling awards recipients, here they are, at



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