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The 2014 Dora Awards: Theatre’s Newest (and Biggest) Picnic

Toronto's annual theatre, dance, and opera awards got a refreshing venue change but kept their roots intact.

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Photo courtesy of the Dora Awards.

It was out with the old and in with the new—and in with some of the old again, too—at last night’s 35th annual Dora Mavor Moore Awards, which celebrate the most outstanding (heavens, don’t say “best”!) dance, opera, musical, and theatre productions of Toronto’s 2013–14 season.

The biggest change to this year’s ceremony, produced by the Toronto Alliance for the Performing Arts, was a breath of fresh air—literally. Having moved out of their former venue, the Bluma Appel Theatre, the Doras were held for the first time at their new home on the Harbourfront Centre’s outdoor WestJet Stage. Despite foreboding clouds and an alarming rain shower during rehearsal, the weather gods—evidently patrons of the arts—gave their blessing to the new venue with a clear, cool evening. While it may seem trivial, the lack of assigned seating made the proceedings feel less stuffy, and created more room to roam to and from the bar (or even to have a smoke break without having to leave the action)—all of which made the 2.5-hour-long affair seem much shorter. (Don’t tell that to our butts, though—cushions next year, please!)

It’s encouraging to see the Doras join other events, such as Word on the Street, The Leslieville Flea, and others, in drawing big crowds to the waterfront. But even as the new location gave the Doras a quick refresh, there was still plenty of time to look back on the past. To mark the 35th anniversary of the awards, hosts Naomi Snieckus and Matt Baram (of the beloved Toronto improv troupe National Theatre of the World) strung a nostalgic thread throughout the show. Memorable bits included a time capsule from Doras past; a slideshow of vintage photos of Sheila McCarthy, Fiona Reid and other icons from the early days of Toronto theatre; and an opening song-and-dance number celebrating the simple fact that “We’re Still Here.” Their best turns, such as comparing a 1970s photo of Toronto’s founding artistic directors to Mumford and Sons, pointed out how little has actually changed in the past three-and-a-half decades.

The award winners themselves also didn’t signal any sea changes in Toronto theatre: heavyweights Soulpepper and Canadian Stage took home seven awards each, the former for its adaptation of Somerset Maugham’s Of Human Bondage (read our review here), which got the nod for Outstanding Direction (Albert Schultz), Outstanding New Play (adapted by Vern Thiessen), Outstanding Lighting Design (Lorenzo Savoini), Scenic Design (Savoini again), and Sound Design (Mike Ross), Outstanding Ensemble Performance, and Outstanding Production in the general theatre division. The latter dominated the musical theatre category for its production of London Road (read the Globe and Mail‘s review here), winning awards for Outstanding Production, Outstanding Direction (Jackie Maxwell), Outstanding Male Performance (Damien Atkins), Outstanding Musical Direction (well-earned by Reza Jacobs), Outstanding Ensemble Performance, and Outstanding Lighting Design (Kevin Lamotte).

Even the independent theatre category went to a standing favourite: Outside the March won big with Vitals (read our review here), which scored Best Production and Outstanding New Play (a big boon to 23-year-old debut playwright, Rosamund Small), as well as Passion Play, co-produced by Sheep No Wool Theatre and Convergence Theatre, won Outstanding Ensemble Performance.

Go here for a full list of winners, including dance, opera, and theatre for young audiences categories.

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