Projection designer Ben Chaisson, Buddies in Bad Times Artistic Director Brendan Healy, and Toronto actor Maev Beaty at the 2011 Dora Awards after party.
Artists aren’t ones to shy away from a controversy, and being one of the biggest congregations of theatre-makers and supporters in Toronto, controversy is never far from the Dora Mavor Moore Awards. Last year was rife with it, as critics and nominees debated over the value of the awards themselves. This year, however, there wasn’t a trace of antagonism towards the annual awards show (besides the fact that it stood in the way of the attendees and the street after-party). This year, the theatre community had bigger threats to worry about.
As the first two aboriginal hosts in the history of the Dora Awards, Craig Lauzon and Michaela Washburn opened the 32nd annual event with a group prayer. After some jibes at each other’s hosting capabilities and a specific big-budget Broadway disaster, the final prayer set the tone for the rest of the evening: save us from Rob Ford.
As history has shown us time and time again, one of the most effective ways to bring a community together is to introduce a common enemy. In an increasingly conservative and Conservative environment, and with a provincial election on the way, it was clear who the enemy was.
Explicit or subtle, the 2011 Doras were an affair that seemed to celebrate everything that sets artists apart from both big C and little c conservatives—total inclusion of minorities and marginalized groups, support for boundary-pushing projects, and drag (in the form of playwright Sky Gilbert, who’s play The Situationists won for Outstanding New Play in the Independent Theatre division).
While the community was still in shock from the announcement that Heritage Canada suddenly broke their five-year relationship with the SummerWorks Festival and denied their grant application for $48,000, supposedly over the controversial play Homegrown, some of the night’s biggest winners made a play about a woman’s love for a suspected terrorist feel as threatening as Wicked. Prime among these: the gut-wrenching nightmare of a play, Buddies in Bad Times Theatre’s Blasted, which won a total of five awards for Outstanding Lighting, Set, and Sound Design, Outstanding Direction (for BIBT Artistic Director Brendan Healy), and Outstanding Production.
Two shows that tell tales from behind brothel doors also took home prizes: Yanna McIntosh won Outstanding Performance by a Female in a Principal Role for Obsidian Theatre Company and Nightwood Theatre’s Ruined, and Anusree Roy’s Brothel #9, produced by Factory Theatre, was named Outstanding New Play. Another highlight that would have had Ford and Harper’s toes curling: the presentation of the Silver Ticket Award, given to someone who nurtures Canadian theatre, to Michael Hollingsworth, infamous for his ’70s play Clear Light (which features, among other things, the roasting of a baby).
Host Michaela Washburn (left, in tuxedo) gets funky in the Dora’s finale with award-winning director Nina Lee Aquino (centre, black dress) and a chorus of dancers.
If Harper thinks all artsy types sit around smoking cigars, polishing their monacles, or ride on the backs of the common-folk on their way to see Wagner or A Comedy of Errors, then that’s exactly the kind of direction that Canadian Stage Company is trying to move away from. Under the direction of Matthew Jocelyn, the company is focusing on more director and design-based productions, and while it may be transforming their subscriber base, it also won them the Dora for Outstanding Touring Production for the stunner co-production with Ex Machina and Robert LePage, The Andersen Project.
In her acceptance speech for Outstanding Direction in the Independent Theatre division for paper SERIES, Nina Lee Aquino captured the mood: “Amid forces that are trying to rip us apart, tear us apart, it is so great to come together… We can show that we do matter, we can change hearts and souls, we can shift attitudes.”
After a rousing dance routine to “Let Your Back Bone Slide” that spread from the stage into the audience, the crowd spilled from the Bluma Appel theatre onto Front Street for the party everyone was waiting for. Spirits—both emotional and alcoholic—were high, with nary a quip or nitpick about the Doras, the winners, or the jury. “The Doras are an opportunity to celebrate the work that we do. [The event] is not without its flaws, but it’s truly a celebration. There’s no sniping, no bitterness, just pure love of each other and each other’s work,” said projection designer, Ben Chaisson, who won the Pauline McGibbon Award for Unique Talents and Potential for Excellence.
With an unsuspected near-casualty (the SummerWorks Festival is hurt, but certainly not dead), the Toronto theatre community may feel under attack. But if the 32nd Annual Dora Awards are any indication, it’s in times of crisis that artists of all kind unite, and get even fiercer. We can’t wait to see the new work that will be recognized next year.
Photos by Beth Kates.