Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Minneapolis/St. Paul

13th Annual Ivey Awards
State Theatre
Review by Arthur Dorman | Season Schedule

Also see Arty's reviews of Henry and Alice: Into the Wild, ≈ [Almost Equal To], Aladdin, The Abominables, In the Heights, Sabra Falling, and Man of La Mancha

The Twin Cities theater community was dressed to the nines and out in force at the historic State Theatre on Monday, September 25, 2017, for the 13th annual Ivey Awards, recognizing excellence in Twin Cities' theater during the season just ended. Because nominees are not announced in advance, nor are there fixed categories in which awards are given from year to year, virtually every theater artist who is in town attends with the possibility of their name being called to receive an award, but moreover to celebrate together the strengths and joys of their vibrant community.

Regina Marie Williams presenting the Lifetime
Achievement Award to Michelle Hensley

Photo by Devon Cox
The 2017 Ivey Award for Lifetime Achievement was given to Michelle Hensley, founding Artistic Director of Ten Thousand Things Theater Company. Earlier this year, Hensley announced her retirement at the end of Ten Thousand Things' 2017-2018 season. Though TTT, Hensley has realized her vision of making high-quality theater accessible to communities that would seldom, if ever, have that opportunity, bringing her productions to such settings as prisons, homeless shelters, refugee community centers, and basic adult education programs. This requires portable staging that creatively use minimal sets, performed in gyms, cafeterias or social halls, with the audience seated on all sides, and with all the lights on. Her productions played, in the same format, for paying public audiences, more often than not drawing high praise. In 2015, Hensley's book about the TTT approach, aptly titled All the Lights On was published by the Minnesota Historical Society Press.

Hensley accepted the Ivey on behalf of her ancestors. She went on to describe the obstacles she encountered as a woman with ambitions to direct theater early in her career. She acknowledged that there has been some improvement (both Penumbra and Jungle Theaters have recently appointed women as their artistic directors), but cautioned that the theater still has too few woman in leadership roles, and advocated for more woman to be brought into leadership, further expressing a hope that of those, the majority be women of color.

Meghan Kreidler accepting the
Emerging Artist Ivey Award

Photo by Devon Cox
Ivey's 2017 Emerging Artist Award was bestowed upon Meghan Kreidler. Kreidler, a 2013 graduate of the University of Minnesota/Guthrie Theater BFA Actor Training Program, has had a growing presence on Twin Cities stages with a banner 2016-2017 season that included the Ivey winning production of Vietgone at Mixed Blood Theater, History Theater's world premiere play The Paper Dreams of Harry Chin, and the Mu Performing Arts – Park Square Theater collaborative production of Flower Drum Song. She also is lead singer of a popular local rock band, Kiss the Tiger, and is a monologue and teaching artist with Penumbra Theatre's Race Workshop.

Kreidler had a big night: first, accepting an Ivey award for acting as a member of the ensemble cast of Vietgone, as a performer, knocking the socks of everyone in the State Theatre with her fierce performance of the rap "Gonna Start Again," from that show; and then, minutes later, her trip to the stage to accept the Emerging Artist honors.

The award show followed what has become its well-proven pattern, opening with a photo montage of works from each of the 76 theater companies participating in the Ivey Awards, followed by an opening number to raise the temperature. This year, the heat came from Kasano Mwanza, with the cast of Chanhassen Dinner Theatres' current production of Grease, singing "Beauty Queen Dropout" as if his life depended on it. Then, out came the evening's co-hosts, Mark Benninghofen and Thomasina Petrus. After a bit of award show banter (the minimal script was written by Lauren Anderson and Joy Dolo, two actors known for their improv work), the meat of the show got underway, with award presentations alternating with representative performance highlights from this past year.

In addition to the numbers from Grease and Vietgone, the evening's entertainment included "You Are Beautiful" from the Theater Mu/Park Square Flower Drum Song, an excerpt from Frank Theatre's Citizen: An American Lyric, "The Apple Doesn't Fall (Very Far from the Tree)" from DalekoArts' The Rink, "At Least I know I Tried" from Jungle Theater's Fly by Night, and "Build a Feast" from Stages' Theatre Company's Stone Soup. The annual In Memoriam segment was accompanied by a medley sung by Ms. Petrus. For the finale, all of the performers along with members of the Teen Ivey program, who attended in force, poured upon the stage for a heartfelt singing of "You Will be Found," an anthem of affirmation from this year's Tony Award winning musical, Dear Evan Hansen. Throughout the evening, the Ivey Band, conducted by Theater Latté Da music director Denise Prosek provided outstanding accompaniment to the entertainers as well as entrance and walk off music.

The 2017 Ivey recipients are:

  • Ensemble: Vietgone, Mixed Blood Theatre – Sun Mee Chomet, David Huynh, Meghan Kreidler, Flordelino Lagundino and Sherwin Resureccion.

  • Production Design and Execution: Six Degrees of Separation, Theater Latte Da – Abbee Warboe, Barry Browning, Sean Healey, Kate Sutton-Johnson, Bethany Reinfeld and Alice Fredrickson.

  • Concept and Execution: Safe at Home, Mixed Blood Theatre

  • Actor: Nilaja Sun, Pike Street, Pillsbury House + Theatre

  • Director: Noël Raymond, The Children, Pillsbury House + Theatre

  • Emotional Impact: Wit, Artistry

  • Actor: Steven Epp, Fiddler on the Roof, Ten Thousand Things

  • Actors: Sun Mee Chomet and Sherwin Resurreccion, The Two Kids That Blow Shit Up, Theater Mu

  • Overall Excellence: Ragtime, Theater Latte Da

  • Emerging Artist: Meghan Kreidler

  • Lifetime Achievement: Michelle Hensley

I had the good fortune of having seen all of the productions and performances honored with Ivey Awards this year, and I agree that all of them deserved recognition. Still, I could not help thinking of other deserving turns—everything about the August Wilson play Jitney at Penumbra and Minnesota Jewish Theatre's The Whipping Man, the ensemble that brought the Guthrie's The Parchman Hour to life, the delicious set Chad Van Kekerix designed for The Baker's Wife at Artistry, Maggie Bearmon Pistner's performances in While You Were Out at Red Eye and Aunt Raini at Minnesota Jewish Theatre, and Heidi Eckwall's fantastic lighting design that was essential for Sandbox Theatre's Big Money.

In her acceptance speech for the award honoring her performance in Pike Street, playwright-actor Nilaja Sun suggested that in these particularly trying and divisive times, "audiences come to us to be able to breath ... and to cry, and to laugh." The Ivey Awards are not definitive statements of what is the best, but in honoring a share of the excellent work done by Twin Cities' theater artists, they honor the capacity of theater to help its audiences understand, explore, heal, and enjoy the crazy world we share. And while they're at it, they put on a damn good show.

Director: Whitney Rhoades; Show Producer: Shannon Pierce; Music Director: Denise Prosek; Writers: Lauren Anderson and Joy Dolo; Lighting Designer: Grant Merges; Video Director: Bob Chouinard; Sound Engineer: Merritt Benton; Associate Producer: Linda Walen; Technical Director: Jim Gangl; Stage Managers: Mary Kay Fortier-Spalding, Dudley Voigt, Cody Wagner, Colin Williams; Executive Producer: Amy Newton