Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Minneapolis/St. Paul

11th Annual Ivey Awards
Recognize Excellence in Twin Cities Theater

Also see Arty's reviews of To Kill a Mockingbird, Elliot, a Soldier's Fugue and A Lie of the Mind

The 2015 Iveys—including pre-event activities, behind-the-scenes interviews and the Awards show—will be featured in a two-hour primetime special on CW23 (The CW Network's Twin Cities affiliate) on Sunday, September 27, from 7-9 PM CST.

On Monday, September 11, 2015, the Twin Cities theater community gathered for the presentation of the 11th annual Ivey Awards recognizing excellence in theater. A full house at the historic State Theatre in Minneapolis served as a mutual admiration society cheering for the theater community as a whole as much as for those receiving honors.

Joe Dowling
Ivey Awards in two categories are given annually: Emerging Artist, and Lifetime Achievement. The 2015 Award for Lifetime Achievement went to Joe Dowling, who recently completed a record 20-year run as Artistic Director of the Guthrie Theater. Dowling oversaw the conception, funding and construction of a three-theater complex on the banks of the Mississippi River which opened in 2006, with on-site scene and costume workshops, restaurants, and an iconic extension that gives visitors a dramatic perch over the river.

Dowling also led the creation of the joint University of Minnesota—Guthrie Theatre BFA Acting Training program; brought numerous international theater companies to perform on the Guthrie's stages; promoted many smaller theater Twin Cities companies by presenting their shows in the Dowling Studio Theatre; commissioned new work by playwrights including Arthur Miller and Tony Kushner, Christopher Hampton and Mark Rylance; and directed dozens of Guthrie productions. His mark on the Guthrie, and the overall vibrancy of the Twin Cities theater scene, will have long-lasting impact.

Mikell Sapp
Mikell Sapp was named winner of the 2015 Emerging Artist Award. Sapp came to the Twin Cities from his native Alabama, where he graduated from Alabama State University at Montgomery with a BA in Theater Arts. He has gained recognition for pull-no-punches performances in plays including Marcus, or the Secret of Sweet (Pillsbury House Theatre), Pussy Valley (Mixed Blood Theatre), The Ballad of Emmet Till (Penumbra Theatre), Spunk (Penumbra Theatre), Broke-ology (Pillsbury House Theatre), and The Beacon of Belle Isle (Freshwater Theatre Company).

Aside from the two annual awards, the Iveys does not have slates of nominees in pre-set categories. Rather, every production mounted by 78 participating theater organizations is reviewed by five or six Ivey Evaluators from a pool of over 150 eligible evaluators. In all, over 1,000 productions were reviewed during the 2014-15 season. Evaluators submit online forms that are both numerical and content based, which are summarized by a software program to determine a slate of honorees, to be ratified by the board of the Ivey Awards. Whether individual actors, ensembles, designers, directors, or entire productions are recognized (and how many of each) varies from year to year, making for an award show that is spontaneous (though produced with utmost precision) and highly emotional.

The 2016 Ivey recipients are:

Productions Recognized:

  • Gabriel (Walking Shadow Theatre Company) —Overall Excellence
  • Nothing is Something (Open Eye Figure Theatre) —Over Excellence
  • Crime and Punishment (Live Action Set) —Production Design

Individual Recognition:

  • Brian Sostek and Megan McClellan —Choreographers and Playwrights, Trick Boxing (Park Square Theatre)
  • Peter Rothstein —Director: Romeo and Juliet (10,000 Things Theater Company)
  • Claudia Wilkins and Barbara Kinglsey —Actors: Gertrude Stein and A Companion (Jungle Theater)
  • Mathew LeFebvre —Costume Designer: The Mystery of Irma Vep (Jungle Theater) and A Christmas Carol 2014 (Guthrie Theater)
  • Sha Cage —Actor: Grounded (Frank Theatre)
  • Joko Sutrisno —Music Director: Prince Rama's Journey (Green T Productions)
  • Steve Tyler —Music Director: The Pirates of Penzance (Ordway Center for the Performing Arts)
  • Ensemble —Actors: Marcus; or the Secret of Sweet (Pillsbury House Theatre)

The two-hour Ivey Awards Show was co-hosted by two of the most popular actors on the local scene, Christina Baldwin and Regina Marie Williams. After suffering through a fairly lame opening number, the two handled their hosting duties with grace and humor. Special material was written for the cast of Church Basement Ladies to explain the background of the Ivey Awards, and for the cast of Shade's Brigade whose radio-play format was a clever vehicle to name the long list of Ivey's corporate sponsors.

The show was a cornucopia of entertainment, high spirits, and poignancy. Upon entering the State Theatre, the decked-out audience was greeted with the opening from Mixed Blood Theatre's production of Colossal, with football players running choreographed practice to an insistent percussive beat. The show closed with an abundantly joyful "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" from Mary Poppins, performed by the cast of the production now playing its final weeks at Chanhassen Dinner Theatre.

Sandwiched between these were presentations of Iveys, alternating with scenes from other well-loved shows from the past season, including "A Happy Tune" from Casting Spells' production of Disenchanted, "I Won't Grow Up" from Children's Theatre Company's Peter Pan; "Ivy League Baby" from History Theatre's River Road Boogie: The Augie Garcia Story, and "The Wandering Wondering" from 7th House Theater's Jonah and the Whale: A New Musical. The latter provided a lovely choral background to an in-memoriam presentation. A quartet of brief excerpts from non-musical plays included: Jeffrey Hatcher in his self-penned show Jeffrey Hatcher's Hamlet (Illusion Theatre), James Craven as the late Chief Justice Thurgood Marshall in Thurgood (Illusion Theater), Sha Cage in Grounded (Frank Theatre), and Austene Van and Elizabeth Efteland in Detroit '67 (Penumbra Theatre).

I have been covering Twin Cities theater for for 13 months, and in that time have posted reviews of well over 100 shows. Given the high caliber of work in our theater community, most of what I saw ranged from good to great, though there were a few disappointments in the pack. What is utterly amazing, though, is that there is so much more out there—by my own scorecard, I have seen about two thirds of the productions and performances recognized Monday evening. Keeping up with the abundance of wealth on our many stages is a wonderful challenge.

Director: James Rocco; Producer: Shannon Pierce; Music Director: Denise Prosek; Writers: Zach Curtis and Shanan Custer; Production Manager: Linda Walen; Stage Managers: Mary Kay Fortier-Spalding, Morgan Jappe, Colin Williams, Cody Wagner; Ivey Awards Founder and Director: Scott Mayer.

Photo: Anne Q. Ulseth and Associates

- Arthur Dorman

Also see the season schedule for the Minneapolis - St. Paul region

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