Celebrating the Edmonton theatre season: Fun Home and We Are Not Alone lead the way at the 32nd annual Sterling Awards

Jocelyn Ahlf in Fun Home. Photo by Mat Busby

Damien Atkins, We Are Not Alone. Photo supplied.

By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca

The spirit of off-centre, and small-scale, originality blew through the 32nd annual Sterling Awards gala Monday night toasting the best of the Edmonton theatre season — in a newly re-worked configuration.

Plain Jane Theatre’s production of Fun Home, a funny and exquisitely heart-wrenching coming-of-age/ coming-out musical about the ways we’re haunted by the mysteries of our past and our parents, proved the top choice of Sterling jurors.

Of its eight nominations in 24 categories, Dave Horak’s deeply moving production of the musical, adapted from a best-selling graphic memoir by cartoonist Alison Bechdel, took home four Sterlings, the most of any single show — including outstanding musical and indie production, as well as nods for musical director Janice Flower, and best director Horak. It marks the fourth season in a row that a Horak production has taken top honours in the indie category. 

Its counterpart in the outstanding production category was We Are Not Alone, a sly, probing solo exploration of belief and our relationship with possible other worlds by (and starring) former Edmonton actor/playwright Damien Atkins. The Crow’s Theatre/ Segal Centre production that ran in the Theatre Network season picked up a Sterling as well for Kimberly Purtell’s ingenious lighting, which got to the crux of a show that’s puckish and persuasive about the notion of the “unidentified,” whether flying objects or aliens. 

Monday’s celebratory bash at the Mayfield Dinner Theatre — hosted in sprightly fashion by actor Mathew Hulshof (nominated for his performance in the Citadel’s Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberly) and production manager/ artistic director Gina Puntil — followed the initiative by Toronto’s Dora Awards: this year’s edition marks the first time in Sterling history that all acting categories are gender-neutral. Instead leading and supporting Sterlings are divided between Comedy and Drama, as identified by jurors.

Vanessa Sabourin in 19 Weeks, Northern Light/ Azimuth Theatres. Photo by Ian Jackson, Epic Photography.

In the end, three of the four performance Sterlings went to women. In Drama, top honours went to Vanessa Sabourin for her starring performance in Northern Light’s provocative 19 Weeks and Bobbi Goddard for her supporting work as the feisty doomed sister of the title protagonist in What A Young Wife Ought To Know, Hannah Moscovitch’s newly topical play at Theatre Network.

Both comedy performance Sterlings went to Citadel shows. Made In Italy, Farren Timoteo’s affectionate, and agile, starring performance in his multi-character memoir of growing up in a loud, fractious Italian family, garnered him the leading role Sterling. Top honours in a comedy supporting role went to Colleen Wheeler for her sensationally funny performance as the snappish, perpetual-motion campaign manager in the Citadel’s two new Kat Sandler political comedies The Party and The Candidate, which ran simultaneously with the same aerobic 10-actor cast catapulting between different Citadel theatres every performance.

Farren Timoteo, Made In Italy. Photo by Murray Mitchell.

In the end, of some 28 nominations (the most of any company by a long shot), the Citadel took home four Sterlings. Set and costume awards went to large-scale productions at Edmonton’s largest playhouse, the former to Cory Sincennes’s design for Matilda the witty Broadway musical wrested from the Roald Dahl novel and the latter to Dana Osborne’s lavish period costumes for the holiday rom-com Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberly, which returned us to the Regency world of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.

Hunter Cardinal, Lake of the Strangers. Photo supplied.

In the particularly competitive new play category that included the Kat Sandler comedies,  Stewart Lemoine’s The Finest of Strangers and two plays spun from real-life history, The Empress and the Prime Minister at Theatre Network and Neil Grahn’s The Comedy Company at Shadow Theatre, the honours went to Lake of the Strangers. The funny and heartbreaking coming-of-age memoir by the brother/sister team of Jacquelyn Cardinal and Hunter Cardinal (and starring the latter) — two young brothers growing up on a First Nations reserve, setting forth on their last summer adventure together — marked a debut collaboration between Naheyawin and Fringe Theatre Adventures.

One of the season’s most intriguing multi-disciplinary initiatives, Trevor Schmidt’s Northern Light/ Good Women Dance Collective collaboration on The Cardiac Shadow, was recognized in Katrina Beatty’s Sterling for outstanding multi-media design.

Songs My Mother Never Sung Me, Dave Clarke’s ingenious new coming-of-age musical about a hearing son growing up with a deaf mother, dominated the theatre for young audiences categories — with Sterling nods for Concrete Theatre’s production, Luc Tellier’s performance as the son poised between worlds and desperate to reconcile them, and Clarke’s score.

Patricia Cerra, Jenny McKillop, Rachel Bowron, Mathew Hulshot in A Lesson in Brio, Teatro La Quindicina. Photo by Mat Busby.

The jurors awarded the five Fringe Sterlings to four shows from last summer’s giant festival, including outstanding production to Bradley Moss’s account of The Zoo Story, and outstanding new work to Stewart Lemoine’s A Lesson in Brio. 

Fringe executive director Adam Mitchell is the recipient of the outstanding achievement in production Sterling named for the legendary Margaret Mooney, with Alastair Elliot taking home the Ross Hill Sterling for career achievement in production. Both are supremely versatile multi-taskers. Tami and Greg Dowler-Coltman, whose galvanizing multi-decade leadership in arts education has had such an indelible impact on the scene here and across the country, were saluted with the Sterling for outstanding contribution to Edmonton theatre. By now their inspiration extends across generations of young artists.       

And here they are, the Sterling Awards for 2018-2019: 

Outstanding Production of a Play: We Are Not Alone (Theatre Network/A Crow’s Theatre/Segal Centre for Performing Arts Production)

Timothy Ryan Award for Outstanding Production of a Musical: Fun Home (Plain Jane Theatre Company/Varscona Theatre Ensemble)

Outstanding New Play (Award to Playwright): Lake of the Strangers by Jacquelyn Cardinal & Hunter Cardinal (Naheyawin/Fringe Theatre Adventures)

Outstanding Director : Dave Horak, Fun Home (Plain Jane Theatre Company/Varscona Theatre Ensemble)

Outstanding Performance in a Leading Role – Drama: Vanessa Sabourin, 19 weeks (Northern Light Theatre/Azimuth Theatre)

Outstanding Performance in a Leading Role – Comedy: Farren Timoteo, Made in Italy (Western Canada Theatre/Citadel Theatre)

Outstanding Performance in a Supporting Role – Drama: Bobbi Goddard, What a Young Wife Ought to Know (Theatre Network)

Outstanding Performance in a Supporting Role – Comedy: Colleen Wheeler, The Party/The Candidate (Citadel Theatre)

Outstanding Independent Production: Fun Home (Plain Jane Theatre Company/Varscona Theatre Ensemble)

Outstanding Set Design: Cory Sincennes, Matilda (Citadel Theatre/Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre/Arts Club Theatre)

Outstanding Costume Design: Dana Osborne, Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley (Citadel Theatre)

Outstanding Lighting Design: Kimberly Purtell, We Are Not Alone (Theatre Network/A Crow’s Theatre/Segal Centre for Performing Arts Production)

Outstanding Multi-Media Design: Katrina Beatty, The Cardiac Shadow (Northern Light Theatre/Good Women Dance Collective)

Outstanding Score of a Play or Musical: Dave Clarke, Songs My Mother Never Sung Me (Concrete Theatre)

Outstanding Musical Director: Janice Flower, Fun Home (Plain Jane Theatre Company/Varscona Theatre Ensemble)

Outstanding Choreography or Fight Direction: Good Women Dance Collective, The Cardiac Shadow (Northern Light Theatre/Good Women Dance Collective)

Outstanding Individual Achievement in Production: Ariel Spanier, Technical Director

Outstanding Production for Young Audiences: Songs My Mother Never Sung Me (Concrete Theatre)

Outstanding Artistic Achievement, Theatre for Young Audiences: Luc Tellier, Actor, Songs My Mother Never Sung Me (Concrete Theatre)

Outstanding Fringe Production: The Zoo Story (Bedlam Theatre Concern)

Outstanding Fringe New Work (award to playwright): A Lesson in Brio by Stewart Lemoine (Teatro la Quindicina)

Outstanding Fringe Director: Mieko Ouchi, Concord Floral (10 out of 12 Productions)

Outstanding Fringe Performance – Drama: Collin Doyle, The Zoo Story (Bedlam Theatre Concern)

Outstanding Fringe Performance – Comedy: Jason Hardwick, Don’t Frown at the Gown (Guys in Disguise)

The Margaret Mooney Award for Outstanding Achievement in Administration: Adam Mitchell

The Ross Hill Award for Career Achievement in Production: Alastair Elliot

Outstanding Contribution to Theatre in Edmonton: Tami and Greg Dowler-Coltman


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