Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Minneapolis/St. Paul

First Annual Minnesota Theater Awards

Review by Arthur Dorman | Season Schedule

Also see Arty's reviews of Her's a Queen, Is God Is, for colored girls... Once, Dial M for Murder, West of Central, Awake and Sing! and Little Women

Kevin McLaughlin and Paige Collette with
honorees Miriam Must and Steve Busa

Photo by Dan Norman
When the producers of the Ivey Awards announced last season that they were folding up their tent, unable to raise the funds to carry on after thirteen years as the premiere event recognizing theater excellence in the greater Twin Cities, an audible gasp could be heard throughout the community. Local theater makers had come to cherish the Ivey Awards for all of the reasons people like to receive awards for their work, but foremost as a gala occasion for the entire community—actors, directors, designers, writers, stage managers, board members, press relations staff, development staff, and the rest of the gang—to gather in one place and celebrate, rejoicing in the abundance of fantastic theater in our cities and the talented, hardworking, generous folks who support one another to make it happen.

Into the breach stepped the four unassuming members of Four Humors, a very small theater company devoted to staging comedies—their Importance of Being Ernest last year was dynamite. They put together a new program called, simply, the Minnesota Theater Awards, or MN Theater Awards for short. They are like the Iveys in that there can be multiple winners in any of the categories, or no winners, depending on the field of nominees. They are unlike the Iveys in that nominees for the Iveys were a dedicated panel of theatergoers who received comp tickets to see and critique large numbers of productions, submitting these to a committee that chose winners based on the names and productions that consistently rose to the top. The MN Theater Awards invite working members of the theater community to submit nominations in any of the categories. These would be the same pool of people who might themselves be award winners, so the award has become one given by peers to their peers. Excluded are those who write about theater and those who are avid audience members, like the Ivey nominating panels of the past.

Honoree Patrick Scully with Scott Artley
Photo by Dan Norman
Also, unlike the Iveys, which were presented at an expensive to produce show at the immense State Theatre, with live music and scenes from some of the most popular shows of the past season, The MN Theater Awards were presented at Aria, the event venue that fills the space vacated by the much missed Theater de la Jeune Lune. Aria offers a mix of chandeliered elegance and industrial chic with exposed brick and cast iron. The space lacks fixed seating, so attendees either sat at one of the bistro tables scattered in an arc near the stage, leaned on the high boys set up behind the tables, lounged on cushy sofas along the rear wall of the room, or stood. The arrangement made it easy to move about during the show and to visit the bars that remained open throughout, which created a vibe that was much more party than show. There were no curated scenes from last year's productions, no live musicians (there was music, provided by D.J. Tonez), no "in memoriam" segment, minimal banter between presenters, and no (gasp) acceptance speeches.

The gents of Four Humors—Jason Ballweber, Ryan Lear, Bran Miller and Matt Spring—added a category reflecting the importance of building inclusive audiences for theater, called Community Engagement. Being new to the awards show game, they wanted to make sure nothing was overlooked, so they humbly added a category "Who Did We Miss?" The overwhelming response was: Stage Managers, with seven of the community's many hardworking stage managers cited for recognition. Finally, they explained that once the nominations poured in they decided that rather than pick winners in each category, all the nominated productions and artists would be honored. And so it went. A pair of presenters were introduced to name those being honored in each category and all those named were invited up to the stage for an aggregate round of applause and group photo.

Exceptions were made for special honors presented to Steve Busa and Miriam Must, retiring as Founding Artistic Directors at Red Eye Theater after 35 years as an incubator for new work, and to Patrick Scully, whose Patrick's Cabaret grew from a one-night performance in 1986 to a performance space for queer artists and others, until it closed in 2016. Those honorees received lovely wooden trophies carved in the shape of Minnesota.

Now, on to the designated categories and their honorees:

  • ≈almost equal to, Pillsbury House Theatre
  • Dr. Seuss's The Lorax , Children's Theatre Company
  • Indecent, Guthrie Theater
  • In the Heights, The Ordway and Teatro del Pueblo
  • This Bitter Earth, Penumbra Theatre
  • Two Mile Hollow, Theater Mu and Mixed Blood Theatre
  • Amber Bjork - Direction , The Memory Box of the Sisters Fox - The Winding Sheet Outfit
  • Jason Hansen - Musical Direction, Assassins - Theater Latté Da
  • H. Adam Harris - Direction , Luna Gale - Underdog Theater
  • Wendy Knox - Direction , Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again. - Frank Theatre
  • Sarah Rasmussen - Direction , The Wolves - Jungle Theater
  • Marcus Dillard - Lighting, Thaïs - Minnesota Opera, Man of La Mancha - Theater Latté Da, Assassins - Theater Latté D, and This Bitter Earth - Penumbra Theater
  • Arnulfo Maldonado - Set, Indecent - Guthrie Theater
  • Kathy Maxwell - Video Projection, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time - Mixed Blood Theatre, This Bitter Earth - Penumbra Theatre, A Crack in the Sky - History Theater, The Nether - Jungle Theater
  • Eli Sherlock - Set , Assassins - Theater Latté Da
  • Abbee Warmboe - Properties, The Ravagers - Umbrella Collective, Two Mile Hollow - Theater Mu and Mixed Blood Theatre, Underneath the Lintel - Theater Latté Da
  • Overall Design, The Skriker - Fortune's Fool Theatre: Joanna McLarnan - Lighting, Sean McArdle - Set, Terri Ristow - Properties, Tracy Swenson - Costume, Ariel Leaf - Makeup
  • Joy Dolo, The Good Person of Szechwan- Ten Thousand Things
  • Becca Hart, The Wolves - Jungle Theater
  • Sam Landman , Prescription: Murder - Ghoulish Delights
  • Thomasina Petrus, Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill - Jungle Theater
  • Miriam Schwartz, Indecent - Guthrie Theater
  • Maren Ward, Constance in the Darkness: A Musical in Miniature- Open Eye Figure Theatre, and Hatchet Lady - Walking Shadow Theatre Company
  • Rachel Petrie and Keely Wolter, Fadeaway Girl - Raw Sugar
  • Harrison David Rivers, Ethan D. Pakchar, Douglas Lyons, Five Points - Theater Latté Da
  • Keith Hovis, Jefferson Township Sparkling Junior Talent Pageant: A New Musical - Keith Hovis
  • James Napoleon Stone, Moby Dick - Theatre Coup d'Etat
  • Derek Lee Miller and the Ensemble, The Privateer - Transatlantic Love Affair
  • Joey Hamburger, Iris Rose Page, and Michael Rogers, The Minotaur or: Amelia Earhart is Alive and Traveling Through the Underworld - Sheep Theater
  • Harrison David Rivers, This Bitter Earth - Penumbra Theatre
  • dat Black Mermaid Man Lady / The Show - Pillsbury Theater
  • Ruthless - Theatre Elision
  • Speechless - The Moving Company
  • The Wiz - Children's Theatre Company and Penumbra Theatre Company
  • Two Mile Hollow - Theater Mu and Mixed Blood Theatre
  • Q-Stage and The Naked I - 20% Theater Company
  • Blackout Improv - Blackout Improv
  • Radical Hospitality - Mixed Blood
  • Chicago Avenue Project - Pillsbury House Theater
  • Turtle Collective - Turtle Collective
    WHO DID WE MISS? Stage Managers:
  • Suzanne Cross
  • Lee Johnson
  • Andre Johnson, Jr.
  • Dylan Nicole Martin
  • Stacy McIntosh
  • John Novak
  • Nancy Waldoch

    After the awards were passed out, the stage turned into a dance floor and the event turned into a dance party, still going strong when I left. A pointer for next year: skip the intermission. There is no such thing as a ten minute intermission when you tell the crowd to hit the bar and use the restrooms. It will be interesting to see how the selection process unrolls next year, since a repeat of this year's decision to honor all nominees would likely invite an unwieldy flood of nominees. But enormous credit goes to the Four Humors for stepping up and making this happen, a joyous celebration of excellence, not only for the honorees, but of the entire theater community.

    The Minnesota Theater Awards were presented at Aria in Minneapolis on September 24, 2018. Produced by the Four Humors: Jason Ballweber, Ryan Lear, Brant Miller and Matt Spring; Coordinator: Kristin Campbell; Announcer: Keely Wolter; Video Design: Brant Miller; Music: DJ Tonez.

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