My sister made it to the State Theatre a few minutes ahead of me last night, and when I arrived she pointed out that a throng of girls near the theater’s entrance had been screaming in excitement, presumably by-and-large feigned, at every single person who walked up the red carpet. I quietly asked an usher whether members of the media mightn’t be allowed to slip in a side door; no, the usher said with a smile, everyone got the red carpet treatment. We shrugged and walked up the red carpet. The girls didn’t scream.
We ended up sitting among a large crowd of teenagers dressed to the sparkly nines, which was appropriate since there’s a flavor of Homecoming-dance glam formality about the entire Ivey Awards ceremony, the Twin Cities’ annual celebration of professional theater. To some extent that’s only to be expected—after all, these are theater people—but it’s also a credit to the awards’ organizers, who appreciate that good award ceremonies (like good Homecoming dances) wrap sincere emotion in several glitzy layers.
The ceremony was briskly paced, as is the fashion these days, with musical cues to let winners know when they needed to wrap up their acceptance speeches—just like at the Oscars, the winners continued to shout thank-yous over the music, followed by confused attempts to walk back to the middle of the stage. Helping to keep matters swift was the fact that there are no “nominees” or “finalists” for Ivey Awards; the winners’ names are simply announced after brief quotes from judges’ assessments of their work. (They don’t know they’re going to win, but in almost all cases they’re coaxed, one way or another, into being present. Multiple winners apologized to family members who hadn’t bought tickets because “I said there was no way I was going to win anything!”)
After an opening musical number by an ensemble of performers humorously celebrating the importance of carrying on with theater amid the woes of economic recession, hosts Claudia Wilkens and Richard Ooms—a married pair of actors who are longtime standbys of the local scene—ran up the aisle for a few brief remarks initiating the ceremony: a parade of presenters comprising past winners and representatives of, yep, event sponsors. (The last time I saw Ooms, he was struggling vainly to kill himself on a hillside in the Dowling Studio.)
The presentations were punctuated by several well-chosen musical and dramatic performances representing the range of Twin Cities professional theater. (By the Iveys’ definition, there are 69 professional theater companies in the Twin Cities.) Two of the best seemed to open a lot of eyes to smaller productions that had been little-seen: Sonja Parks’s multicharacter solo show No Child at Pillsbury House Theatre (a production already set for reprise in 2010) and the Mu Performing Arts show Asiamnesia. “Mu Performing Arts rocks my face off!” said a gushing presenter following the musical number, an astonishing and funny rendition of “Over the Rainbow” designed to literally skewer Asian stereotypes.
The first award, presented by a notably festive Kate Eifrig, went to Christina Baldwin and Jennifer Baldwin Peden for their performances in Nautilus Music Theater‘s Sister Stories, Christina slightly abashed to have to appear onstage in the costume of “Little Edie” Bouvier Beale, the Grey Gardens character she was about to portray in a musical number. Next, the Youth Performance Company was honored for its production of Little Rock, 1957. YPC director Jackie Knight won applause for imploring the theater community to not allow the recession to deter them from pursuing “risk-taking work.”
Greta Oglesby earned a standing ovation when she took the stage to receive an award for her remarkable performance in the Guthrie’s Caroline, or Change. Her acceptance speech was perfectly Minnesotan, beginning with an exclamation of “oh, gosh” and continuing on to credit the Almighty for giving her “a little bit of talent and a couple of gifts.”
“Someone needs to tell him he’s not at the VMAs,” said my sister when Jarius Abts—winner of a 2008 Ivey for his starring turn in the Jungle Theater‘s Hedwig and the Angry Inch—took the stage in a bling-tastic necklace to present an award to Greg Banks, director of the Children’s Theatre Company production of Romeo and Juliet. Banks wasn’t present, but several R&J cast members—including Reed Sigmund, currently at CTC as Ernie in Bert and Ernie, Goodnight!—accepted for Banks and Dean Holt ran through a list of people he imagined Banks would like to thank. (My sister was waiting for Holt to thank his own wife on Banks’s behalf.)
After Chris Griffith accepted an award for his puppetry, seen in Minnesota Jewish Theatre‘s Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins, the History Theatre‘s production of Tyrone and Ralph was honored for overall excellence. Überdroll playwright Jeffrey Hatcher, the Minnesotan writer of Tyrone and Ralph, said he’d had a dream about being impersonated on the Ivey Awards stage by someone declaring, “I’m a British playwright, and I’m really important.” Then, Hatcher continued, in his Ivey dream “Dominque Serrand got five awards in a year where he didn’t do a thing!”
Sean Healy was justly honored for his outstanding sound design in the Jungle’s Shipwrecked! (“He’s always late,” joked director Joel Sass, accepting on Healy’s behalf.) Then, Luverne Seifert took an award for his title role in Workhaus Collective‘s The Transmogrification of Philip K. Dick and Theatre Latté Da was honored for its production of Old Wicked Songs.
Parks, overcome with happy tears, accepted an award for her performance in No Child, and the Shipwrecked! laurels continued with an Emerging Artist Award to the production’s costar Emily Gunyou Halaas, who’s been quickly winning fans with her inevitably excellent performances across the Twin Cities. “I went to New York for five years,” said Halaas, “and it was the best thing I ever did. The second-best thing I ever did was coming home.” That statement made her the one person at the Iveys not explicitly or implicitly criticizing the Big Apple, the one metro area that reputedly stands between and us and the designation of having most theater seats per capita in the whole U.S. of A.
Climaxing the evening, Dudley Riggs, whose Brave New Workshop is over 50 years old, received an award for lifetime achievement. (In a video montage, BNW alumnus Al Franken quipped that “without Dudley Riggs, I wouldn’t be where I am today. I’d be in my fifth term.”)
“When I started out,” said Riggs, “this town had seven theater companies and six critics. Now it has over 100 theater companies, and six critics.” Since at least four of those critics write for the Daily Planet, Riggs must have been slighting another publication…but with unusual tact, he declined to name names.
Correction: The person who spoke on behalf of Greg Banks was Dean Holt, not Reed Sigmund as this article originally stated.
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