The nominations have been revealed for the 15th annual Betty Mitchell Awards, the Calgary theatre community’s version of the Tony Awards. Commonly known as the “Bettys,” the awards are named after the former drama teacher, director and founder of Workshop 14, one of the forerunners to Theatre Calgary.
The best in local theatre will be recognized in 16 categories covering all creative and technical aspects of theatre production.
Sixty-one shows were eligible for the awards this year, all of which played on Calgary stages between June 15 of last year and June 14 of this year. Hence, Trepan Theatre’s SHE and The Shakespeare Company’s The Queens both received nominations, even though they were on Calgary stages last season.
Each year, a selection committee of just a dozen people are tasked with seeing at least 75 per cent of a season’s eligible offerings. They then present their top picks to the Betty Mitchell Awards Committee so it can come up with a final list of five nominees per category.
This list is then mailed out to “Passport Holders” — theatregoers who have seen at least 25 shows during the season and who are willing to pick their favourites from the list. Touring shows from elsewhere are ineligible, as the Bettys recognize work that has originated, at least in part, in Calgary.
For example, while nominee Surreal SoReal Theatre’s Big Shot was conceived in Edmonton, Ghost River co-produced the show here in Calgary. Thus, Big Shot creator and performer Jon Lachlan Stewart is nominated for his performance and the show is also up for outstanding production.
The chair of the Betty Mitchell steering committee — and a Betty winner himself — Trevor Rueger says the “spread of nominations” is surprising.
“I always find it heartening when the nominations come out and I see how much great work is being done in this city,” he adds, noting that a number of “first-timers” made the final list of nominees.
Some of those include: Monice Peter of Ground Zero/Hit & Myth’s Race for Outstanding Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role; Daniel Mallett and Scott Shpeley of Lunchbox Theatre’s musical comedy Peril in Paris for Outstanding Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role and Outstanding Performance by an Actor in a Comedy or Musical, respectively; Tory Doctor of Forte Musical Theatre Guild’s Jeremy de Bergerac for Outstanding Performance by an Actor in a Comedy or Musical; Braden Griffiths in the Outstanding Performance by an Actor in a Drama category for his turn in Downstage’s Good Fences, which was part of this year’s Alberta Theatre Project’s Enbridge playRites Festival; and Joe Perry of Downstage’s Sia for Outstanding Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role .
Verb Theatre is also on the list for the first time with Jim Forgetting, receiving a couple of acting nominations — Haysam Kadri and Shawna Lori Burnett for the outstanding dramatic actor/actress categories.
Surprisingly, Downstage’s first show of its season — Drew Hayden Taylor’s In a World Created by a Drunken God — didn’t receive any nominations, despite its highly lauded run.
Also shut out is Ground Zero/Hit & Myth’s hilarious A Behanding in Spokane.
All Theatre Calgary shows this season received at least one nomination a piece including A Christmas Carol for Outstanding Costume Design, and Cats, Enron and Tosca Café for Outstanding Choreography or Fight Direction. Shirley Valentine’s sole performer, Nicola Cavendish, picked up a nomination for Outstanding Performance by an Actress in a Comedy or Musical, as did R.H. Thomson — Outstanding Performance by an Actor in a Drama — for his portrayal of Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird.
Plays presented by Alberta Theatre Projects amassed more than a fourth of the 80 total nominations. Playing With Fire: The Theo Fleury Story accounts for six of those nominations, including Kirstie McLellan Day for Outstanding New Play; Ron Jenkins for Outstanding Direction; and Shaun Smyth, who played Fleury, for Outstanding Performance by an Actor in a Drama .
Playing With Fire is also in the running for Outstanding Production of a Play, a category it shares with two other ATP offerings — Penny Plain and Mary’s Wedding. Lunchbox Theatre’s Jake’s Gift and Big Shot round out the production nods.
Vertigo Theatre’s Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street accrued eight nominations. The only other Vertigo show on the list, When Girls Collide, earned Karen Johnson-Diamond a spot for Outstanding Performance by an Actress in a Comedy or Musical.
Sage Theatre picked up three nominations for two of its three shows this season including Summer of My Amazing Luck (Myla Southward, Outstanding Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role) and Fool for Love (Kevin Rothery, Outstanding Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role and Jamie Konchak, Outstanding Performance by an Actress in a Drama.)
The only performer to receive multiple acting nominations is Jamie Konchak for her performances in Hunger Striking, Fool for Love and Peril in Paris.
If there is a “surprise” in this year’s list, it’s in the number of mentions Peril in Paris received. The opening show of Lunchbox’s season accumulated a total of eight nominations, including three in performance categories, as well as in the categories for Outstanding Production of a Musical, Outstanding New Play, Outstanding Musical Direction, Outstanding Sound Design or Composition, and Outstanding Costume Design.
“It was a huge surprise to me that this show did so well. I thought it was very inventive and creative and I loved it, but it was a small show, early on in the season,” says Rueger.
“It’s fantastic. It’s nice to see a project like this succeed,” says Eric Rose, who originally created Peril in Paris — along with Ethan Cole — as a 15-minute musical for playRites.
Rose describes the show as a melodramatic, Vaudeville pastiche inspired by silent film melodramas like The Perils of Pauline.
“I’d say it was Lunchbox’s most ambitious project,” says Rose, pointing to the show’s “complex” design, particular aesthetic and musical requirements. “People recognize innovation and time and care, especially within the limitations of a smaller scale.”
The winners will be announced on Monday, August 27 during a ceremony at Stage West Theatre.