By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca
“It’s our little love letter to the Edmonton theatre community,” says Kristi Hansen of the digital 34th annual Sterling Awards, free online Monday night.
In “a wild year” for live theatre, the awards, named for theatre pioneer Elizabeth Sterling Haynes and designed to celebrate excellence on Edmonton stages, have adapted their venue, their tone, and their spirit for the occasion. For a second year, the Sterlings are taking to the digital stage, as so many theatre companies have undertaken to do this past year of pandemic chaos and devastation. And it’s in the spirit of celebration, Hansen says, “of toasting the year that was.”
In a year like no other, shows were cancelled, postponed indefinitely, filmed, re-planned, pivoted into online versions of their originals. And theatre artists rose creatively to the challenges of a time that made live gatherings, the very raison d’être of an art form where audiences and artists share a space, impossible.
“No awards will be given out,” says Hansen of the evening planned by the Sterling Committee. “We didn’t do any fund-raising or (go after) any sponsorships.” Instead, “we invited the community at large, theatre companies and indie artists, to put a little something together — pictures, videos, messages, greetings from artistic directors…. as simple as a 20-second iPhone video or a two-minute clip from online content. It’s whatever folks felt they had the capacity to contribute.”
The Citadel and Northern Light Theatre, for example, have offered clips from streamed versions of shows in their seasons. Rapid Fire Theatre artistic director Matt Schuurman, an expert videographer, put together “a hilarious video,” Hansen says.
The Sterling Committee didn’t prescribe. It wasn’t a year for that. It could be, she says, “a simple 30-second messages of ‘how’s it going?’” It’s a “low stakes” situation; we’re being gentle with ourselves as we figure out how to go forward, how to celebrate excellence in the future.”
The hosting duties of the evening belong to the 10-member committee, who have put together a Welcome! video. The year saw the addition of new and younger members, among them Sue Goberdhan, Althea Cunningham, Luc Tellier, Andrés Moreno, Steven Sobolewski. “New faces, new perspectives, fresh ideas,” says Hansen, on the phone from P.E.I. where she and her husband Sheldon Elter are in the Charlottetown Festival production of Dear Rita, a tribute to the late Maritime singer-songwriter Rita MacNeil.
In a year of devastation for the live performing arts when theatre artists have applied their wits and skills so impressively, and so diversely, to the challenges “it’s nice to celebrate everyone without a sense of competition,” Hansen says. “The goal is ‘watch it and feel good’. And I think you’ll find it an emotional, touching, heartening event.”
You can’t keep creative people down (“we’re the cockroaches,” she says cheerfully). The annual Sterling after-party is not, I repeat not, ruled out. Says Hansen, “hold the date everybody, August 11! We should be allowed to gather outdoors!”