The Nominees are….No One. Or, Everyone. Appropriately

Once a year for the last nine years my theatre community has gathered downtown to honor and celebrate the previous season of theatre in this town. It’s an awards show like few others. While there are all the trappings of what might be expected—fancy red carpet, lots of photographers, flashing lights, gawkers driving by on the main strip downtown, and loads of people (who typically see each other in jeans, t-shirts and occasionally underwear) are all dressed up with high heals, long gowns, sexy gowns, jackets and ties. (And sometimes several of these items at once.)

iveys2013But what makes the Iveys really different is that no one is a nominee. Unlike other awards shows where there a people nominated for awards, the pre-awards buzz for this event is not about any single individual or production, it’s about all productions. There aren’t a handful of nominees walking the door and chatting up their colleagues or getting their picture taken – instead nearly everyone in the crowd is a potential winner.

This awards program has neither nominees nor categories (save for two – Emerging Artist and Lifetime Achievement.) And the possibilities are widespread. Awards can be given to individuals (actor, director, designer, playwright), entire casts, collaborators or a company for a production. The number of awards and the breakdown of categories is never the same from year to year.

This year a good friend of mine, Craig Johnson, won for his performance as Oscar Wilde in Gross Indecency, a production I was fortunate to have been a part of. I’ve worked with him on many productions over the years and feel I know his work very well.  This was a big production—it’s a long, wordy script, and it’s not Oscar Wilde at his wittiest, finest self. It’s more complicated, more layered, than that. And it was very much an ensemble piece, albeit one whose success would hinge strongly on the man at the center of it all. It was a successful show, well received by audiences and certainly a highlight of the year for everyone involved. As for Craig, our fearless leader, I’m familiar with how hard he worked on this show, and with how his work turned out. I saw it in his eyes every night in our scenes. His winning was a highlight of the evening for a lot of people.

My big takeaway from the evening were several of the other winners. They were individuals and companies whose work I either didn’t know, didn’t see or….in one instance didn’t even know about. (Eek! How did that happen?) I feel like I know what’s happening on stages across the city, I feel like I see a lot of shows and read about and follow many more, and I know and talk to theatre artists all the time. Of course, sometimes I too am working, and I’m only human and can’t see everything. Still, this year this element of “i don’t know that person” felt stronger than in the past. (The after party only solidified it. Or maybe my cohorts are just getting older and leaving earlier.)

Then there was this great presentation in the middle of the show about the vast number of playwrights in this city, along with the vast number of original scripts produced by a wide variety of companies. Original scripts are the heart and blood flow of the theatre. All presented, appropriately, by the head of the Playwrights Center, the nationally recognized vital writing institute.

So what does all this tell me?

It tells me that the Twin Cities theatre scene has grown. A Lot. Not only has the number of actors, directors, designers and writers increased dramatically over the years, so has, I think, the quality. The breadth, depth and caliber of talent amazes me.

This is the thought I landed on ultimately…..this town is chock full of talent. Amazing, strong, varied and eager talent.

I’m proud to be a part of this community. I can’t wait to see what happens in the coming year. And I can’t imagine living anywhere else right now.

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Community and Friends and Celebration

Arriving at the Ivey Awards, Historic State Theater, Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis

New York has its Tony, Chicago has its Jeff. For many years Minneapolis didn’t have such a thing, but for the past seven years we’ve had the Ivey. Unlike most award programs, the Ivey Awards doesn’t have set categories and there are no nominations, although there are two standard categories of Emerging Artist and Lifetime Achievement. These elements have been a point of criticism since the beginning, but so far it hasn’t kept away the crowds, lessened the excitement or diminished the glory. Of course, with no set categories and no nominations, honorees have no idea they’re going to win, so every statue handed out is a surprise to most of the room.

Two nights ago the Twin Cities theatre professionals, along with numerous fans, gathered at the historic State Theater downtown for this year’s event. It’s colloquially become called “theater prom” by some because in a field where most of the workforce tend to spend rehearsals and pre-show time wearing rather casual (often very casual) clothes, this is an opportunity to dress up big time.

But unlike prom where only certain people are invited, everyone’s welcome to this show, and elbows are rubbed between the newest and most experienced artists, between the smallest shoe-string budget company and the multi-million dollar funded institutions and everywhere in between. The beauty is in the community, coming together for one night to celebrate each other and honor some (though not all) of the standout moments and works of the previous season.

Oh, and then there’s an after party. A HUGE after party, where more elbows are rubbed and ears are bent and deals and promises are made.

I didn’t win anything although I didn’t really think I would. I am, however, awfully proud to have been a part of a show that garnered a lot of attention that night, as two of those little statues went out because of that show, Street Scene. One went to our show’s heroine, Anna Sundberg (who not surprisingly to many was the year’s emerging artist) and one to our show’s director, Craig Johnson, for his direction of the show – an overwhelming task with its 3-acts, 65 characters, 26 actors and a dog on a (relatively) tiny stage. Sitting next to Craig as his name was announced (or rather, the work and the show was announced which prompted a large contingent around him to cheer loud enough he couldn’t actually hear his name) and seeing the stunned look on his face was a real joy. I’ve been fortunate to work on many shows with him, for many years, and I couldn’t have been prouder of my good friend.

Of course, at the after party the cast members in attendance decided we made his direction look good and gave ourselves due credit. But more importantly, we celebrated our friends who won and celebrated our fortunes of working in a community with such widely diverse and strongly talented artists as these Twin Cities have. I’m happy to call it home.

A Random Week

The past week has been a busy roller coaster of life and thoughts. Here are a random few things of discovery:

  • On Monday I attended The Ivey Awards, which are sort of the Tonys or Jeff Awards of Twin Cities. This evening always proves to me that I need to see more shows. I don’t know how I do that.  But there were several winners whose work I haven’t seen or shows I didn’t catch. I guess when I hear the buzz about something like Ruined at Mixed Blood and I can’t make it there then I should remember this night and I should find a way. I hate missing good theatre. This evening also always proves to me that I’m lousy at schmoozing when there are a couple thousand people, too few bartenders and lots and lots of chatter, laughter, hugs and a bit of eye rolling. Thankfully though, this year I avoided to say or do anything embarrassing. I think.
  • On Tuesday I began my day with insomnia. Literally. Crawling in to bed at midnight I had nothing but Iveys memories, songs performed at the show, conversations had and other sights and sounds running through my head. I then constructed at least two or three ideas for shows I’d like to act in, direct or write. I could’ve easily filled three or four years of work. I slept an hour before getting up to do the day job, where somehow I managed to not fall over. Later that day I saw some promotional video for a local production. It’s a good show (I suspect) and the video is really well put together. I think about how I like working with video, making and editing them together. I think about how I could find a job doing something like that. Then I go back to my other stuff. Eventually I sleep.
  • On Wednesday I learned about the possibility of someone producing a play. It might be another two years, but it’s not dead in the water. This is encouraging, if not one hundred percent elating. Anticipation. Waiting. I briefly discuss a new piece that I think might be interesting. Maybe a 2011 fringe show. Baby steps.
  • On Thursday I had free swim. So I watched some of NBC’s season premieres. I don’t think I’d ever want to do television. And I can say that because I’ve never done television. (No, I can’t say that, but it’s my justification. That, and I live in Minneapolis.) But given the lack of solid work I’ve done recently, and the overwhelming day job, watching actors play and have fun and that’s their job I was a bit envious of them. Especially the few who I personally know (or at least knew at one time) and for whom I know from where they came. I’m happy for them. I need to replace my day job and be happy for me too.
  • On Friday I was at a lovely dinner party at a friend’s house where the host paid a lot of praise to me (and my writing partner) for work on our show last year, and expressed how she hopes to see it produced again. Elated by the ego boost, I mentioned an idea for another project, which she also encouraged. All in all, it was good for the inner self.

And now it’s Saturday. A day of chores preparing to host family for dinner.

As for Sunday…well, I think there’s some free time in there to conjure ideas on a nice bike ride and then sketch up some initial thoughts about that new project.

Oscar and Angst

Oh, the day after the Oscars…

Who could possibly count the number of articles in newspapers and online, the number of TV reports or the number of blog entries about the Oscars? I too could spew on about who deserved what, or who wore what, but instead I want to note a couple things that personally struck me.

I thought it was odd that Babs was given the honor of presenting in the directing category. I know why it was done, but it showed the hand. And if it hadn’t showed the hand, and Ms. Bigelow hadn’t won, how awful would that have been? Why wasn’t last year’s winner there? If he weren’t available, then OK, but then I wished that had been acknowledged. And such an acknowledgement would’ve been a bit classier. There, I said it. I think it was a tacky presentation.

That said, I won’t question the validity of her winning. And I’m glad that a woman director finally won. (That sized gender gap doesn’t exist in the theatre, why does it in movies?) Hurt Locker was a tightly directed movie—not perfectly, but very tightly. The level of suspense and tension was incredible. What’s striking about that movie, especially since it won for best picture, was it basically had a cast of three. That’s truly unusual for a Best Movie and for a war film.  Although, while it was a good and well done movie, I honestly think Inglorious Basterds was a much, much better movie all around. It should have won for best picture….

But I digress.

“life moves pretty fast” – That’s the other thing that struck me. The tribute to John Hughes was heart wrenching for me – perhaps because some of his biggest movies, like Breakfast Club and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off came out when I was a teenager. The footage and montage of clips contained so many memorable moments and lines and faces. Each one springing forth another image of that time in my life. In some ways his works seem to resonate with a specific generation, and perhaps solely with that generation. Nonetheless, it’s clear he was a well loved filmmaker, and he was too young to go.

To this day I have issues with how quickly Ferris got from the Loop to Evanston. It’s just not possible. Perhaps it’s time for me to let that go, though.

And the Tony goes to…

Every year I watch the Tony Awards faithfully. I do this for several different reasons, the primary one being that I like theatre. Secondary to that is something that could only be defined as professional education. Tertiary (how often does one really use that word?) is my opportunity to live vicariously. 

Saying “I like theatre” is simplifiying it at best. If I didn’t like it, love it, dream it and believe in its power above all other art forms, I wouldn’t be doing it still. Or, maybe I would. What do I know? I haven’t stopped doing it or caring about it, so I can’t tell the difference. Some time about 20 some…..or…well, many years ago, I decided I wanted to go in to theatre and have yet to change to my mind. We’ve been saying it for years, but every year it seems truer and truer that live performance has to work hard to compete for the entertainment dollars against movies, TV, the internet, etc. But there is nothing that compares to the shared experience with living breathing people. Each performance happens once, and only once. 

As someone who works in theatre (as much as I’m possibly allowed in the sandbox) but not in New York City, it’s always good to keep an eye out on what’s happening on Broadway. And who’s happening there. It’s a way to anticipate the trickle down effect, and discover which writers or plays are going to be popping up in this market in productions I might audition for. Or perhaps know which shows might tour, that I am going to want to see. I often have heard or read about or read the shows up for awards each year, and I appreciate getting a glimpse at it.

Last night I was only able to catch the last half or so of the show. (The rest is on my dvr and I’ll get through it tonight.) I was suprisingly disappointed in the musical theatre award winners’ performances. I loved the movie Billy Elliot, and I had (have) high expectations for the stage version. But that number that they performed from it? I didn’t find it inspiring in the least. I didn’t like the choreography at all, and think it may have been a poor choice for a selection. I’d probably still go see it when it comes to town, because it’s a great, moving story. Perhaps in context that number would work better. Similarly, the performance of the title song from Hair left me thinking….”Meh.”  They couldn’t do something just a bit more original?

I was glad to see a Neil LaBute play finally be up for a Tony, even if his play didn’t win. He’s not everyone’s cup-of-tea, but I think he’s masterful at finding the nuances and intricacies of characters, particularly those whose seem to contradict themselves. No one is two dimensional in any aspect.

The whole vicarious element is just shallowness and dreams. I’ve never imagined actually moving New York. I’d be lying if I said I never imagined working on Broadway though. In some elements it’s the pinnacle of success in American theatre. But, honestly, only in some, because Broadway isn’t primarily about art – it’s about commercial success.  And bottom line is, for me, artistic success is more important than commercial. That said, how friggin’ exciting would it be to be there? So I watch to imagine what that would be like. Or, to spot someone I know, or root for some one, or even root for someone I know

And while Broadway may be about commercial theatre, the Tony Awards are about artistic merit, as much as any award show can be. So for that, I look forward to seeing the rest of what I missed.

An award for best subway dance

While I spend a lot of time seeing plays, I spend very little time seeing movies. In fact, I’m usually sadly behind the rest of the world (or so it seems) when it comes to contemporary movies. Oscar night for me can sometimes be best enjoyed as an opportunity to make a list of everything I should see. Sometimes, that’s really more feasible if I look at it as adding to that list. On the rare occasion when I clean out my desk, I often come across little pieces of scrap paper and post-it notes, with various movie titles scribbled on them. Some thoughts scratched down during some awards show.

Last night I finally saw Slumdog Millionaire. You know how after you’ve heard all about something, how great it is, how wonderful it is, how deserving it is to have won all those awards, you go in to the experience with certain expectations and preconceived notions. Slumdog wasn’t at all what I thought it would be. I’m not sure what I expected, but it had a plot that was more complicated, more intricate, than I thought it would.

In my book, I’m not sure it was “best picture” worthy. That’s a category for movies that should either be something so well done and so powerful in some aspect or be something which reveals in some unique or new way an element of a universal element— something about that old human condition.

Slumdog isn’t that. It’s an interesting, intriguing story. It’s well done and beautifully acted. (Especially those kids!) But it didn’t put it all over the top for me. Sure there’s the thematic elements of enduring love or of family ties. Perhaps the whole right and wrong. What it did do so well (in addition to those things I just mentioned) was creating an empathetic character. You couldn’t help but care about and root for Jamal. Looking back on it, I kind of wish Jamal was a little more flawed. He was almost too nice and pure.

But that factor in the film is what made it moving. That was the reason that the subway scene and dance was made me feel warm and fuzzy, and giggle just a bit.

There are things to learn here. Not sure what or how, but there’s a way to apply this.

I’ll start by hanging out at the train station tomorrow.