Hosts Bain Boehlke and Wendy Lehr weren’t onstage for much of the 2010 Ivey Awards Monday night at the State Theatre, but they had their work cut out for them when they were—especially Boehlke, artistic director of the Jungle Theater, who was forced to work his way into one of Lehr’s high heels (“That’s surprisingly comfortable,” the teleprompter had him say) and thank a list of corporate sponsors. As he made his way past a BMW dealership and the Ultimate Pajama Party, a woman sitting near me repeated his instruction aloud. “Hold your applause until the end,” she said, reaching for her flask.
The number of businesses sponsoring the annual awards for Twin Cities professional theater was gratifying, a sign of Ivey Awards founder Scott Mayer’s professionalism. The ceremony whistled by like a well-oiled train, with the recipients being appropriately tearful and the presenters, appropriately droll. You don’t beat around the bush when this is supposed to be everybody’s one night off.
After a slideshow spotlighting the professional theater companies eligible for 2010 Ivey Awards and paying tribute to members of the theater community who died this year, a couple of dozen local playmakers took the stage in a medley of songs from A Chorus Line, lyrics rewritten to tell their own stories. When “Tits and Ass” became “Kids and Class,” I heard one Iveygoer say, “If there’s an audience for Chorus Line jokes, this is it…and I’m not sure there’s an audience for Chorus Line jokes.”
Next came the awkwardness with the shoe, after which Boehlke and Lehr introduced Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak. Rybak, who always gets the best lines at the Iveys, acknowledged his wife on their anniversary (“We’ve had a lot of Romeo and Juliet…and just a pinch of Albee.”) and paid tribute to epic theater benefactors John and Sage Cowles. Those of us who had also been at the SAGE Awards for dance last week (high-five to Kimberly Richardson) had heard about the accomplishments of Mrs. Cowles; at the State, Rybak pointed out that Mr. Cowles played a leading role in bringing the Guthrie Theater to town in the 1960s.
The first award went to Tulle & Dye (not “Tool and Die,” my friend Amelia English pointed out when she glanced at my notes) for their work on the costume design of the Ordway’s Beauty and the Beast. After a musical performance from Nautilus Music Theater’s Joan of Arc, a pirate monkey manipulated by Ivey-winning puppeteer Chris Griffith (it would be hard to believe award ceremony cowriter Joseph Scrimshaw didn’t have a hand in that) delivered the evening’s second award to Joseph Stanley for his scenic design of the Children’s Theatre’s Mulan Jr.
Next up was the first Ivey for overall excellence in a production—awarded to Mixed Blood’s production of Ruined—followed by a vigorously performed but haphazardly amplified performance of “La Vie Boheme,” from February’s homegrown production of Rent. In the first of two awards for Illusion Theater’s My Antonia, an Ivey went to actress Katie Guentzel.
“I’m so glad that someone came to that show!” exclaimed director Joel Sass when he took the stage to accept an Ivey for overall excellence for the Jungle Theater’s sparsely-attended production of Mary’s Wedding. “We dreamed our way through that show.”
In the most entertaining portion of the ceremony, Autumn Ness took the stage in character as the wicked stepmother from the Children’s Theatre production of Cinderella (“As God is my witness,” she said, referring to local theater’s most popular sister act, “I will be the third Baldwin sister!”), followed by Reed Sigmund and Dean Holt as her daughters—Sigmund’s dress festooned with lunchon meat and hot dogs in a parody of Lady Gaga’s infamous meat dress. They introduced Live Action Set, who performed the concise rendition of the Lord of the Rings trilogy from The Happy Show. (I like to believe that the awards committee was influenced by my review calling Brant Miller’s performance as Samwise Gamgee “Ivey-worthy.”)
Next, Aaron Gabriel received an award for composing the music for Interact’s Madame Majesta’s Miracle Medicine Show, and Regina Marie Williams was handed Ruined‘s second Ivey as she was acknowledged for her lead performance in that show. Williams credited director Aditi Kapil with “chiseling away at Regina Marie Williams” until her troubled character emerged.
“Keep reaching out and including more people,” said Ten Thousand Things artistic director Michelle Hensley as she accepted an Ivey for overall excellence for the company’s production of Othello. The award, said Hensley, really belonged to the company’s audiences in prisons, shelters, and other venues that wouldn’t see any live theater if not for Ten Thousand Things.
A collection of young performers then took the stage to perform a jazz-hands remix of Annie‘s “Tomorrow” (as a former theater kid myself, I appreciated the boy who wore a Geek Squad shirt for the occasion), and the penultimate Ivey of the evening was presented to costume designer Kalere A. Payton. “Thank you to everyone who hired me and helped me pay the rent,” Payton said as she accepted the Emerging Artist award.
The evening’s final award, for lifetime achievement, went to Lehr herself—an accomplished actress and teacher who is currently onstage in the Jungle’s Glass Menagerie and accepted her award costumed as her character from Theatre Latté Da’s The Full Monty. “It’s like Bain said when he accepted his McKnight award,” said Lehr after watching a video tribute to herself. “I feel like Tom Sawyer at his own funeral!”
After Lehr’s acceptance speech, the rest of the Full Monty cast came out and took their clothes off, then everybody went over to Rock Bottom to have a drink. Just another night in the theater.