By ANDREA NEMETZ Local Xpress
Two Planks and a Passion Theatre’s minimalist production of Shakespeare’s magical The Tempest was the big winner at the 2016 Robert Merritt Awards on Monday night with five wins, including outstanding production.
Staged last summer at Ross Creek Centre for the Arts, near Canning, it also earned awards for direction for Ken Schwartz, choreography for Jim Morrow’s puppet work, costumes for Jennifer Goodman and original score for Allen Cole.
It was one of two wins for Cole at the always entertaining awards show at Casino Nova Scotia.
The composer also won the pewter trophy for outstanding musical direction for Highest Tides at Chester Playhouse, a musical revue celebrating his work.
He was not able to be at the ceremony as he is working as musical director and composer for Shaw Festival’s upcoming production of Alice in Wonderland, his father, Leon Cole, told the audience.
LoHiFi Productions’ original play Hardboiled — A Sal Dali Crime Tale, was a triple winner.
Christopher Little won outstanding performance by an actor in a supporting role for his portrayal of multiple characters, Theo Pitsiavas won new play by a Nova Scotian and Pitsiavas, Little and Tony Owen were honoured for their set design.
Two Planks and a Passion entered the night with the most nominations — 13 — including nine for The Tempest and four for The Turn of The Screw, written by Schwartz, artistic director of Two Planks and a Passion.
“It’s the most nominations we’ve ever received,” said a beaming Schwartz, whose win brought to three the number of directing awards he has won out of eight nominations.
“It’s not often the play is performed in a minimal way. There’s a lot of magic in the play, and usually it’s staged with pyrotechnics and sleight of hand. Our kind of magic is making something out of nothing, staging it outside by a pond with no electricity. It was a significant challenge.”
Two Planks, which is celebrating its 25th season this year, has earned 67 nominations since 2008. Monday night’s wins bring to 26 the number of trophies it has won.
LoHIFi Productions received nine nominations for Hardboiled, which Pitsiavas described as “surreal noir.”
“We created a genre. We took a 1950s hardboiled crime story, tough-talking stark realism and put in a surrealist detective,” said Pitsiavas.
"The greatest surrealist of all is Salvador Dali. It fits perfectly. We think outside the box with our narratives, and Dali is the ultimate outside-the-box thinker.”
Little, who works in marketing for software company Trihedral, said that about 20 years ago he retired from acting but, over time, “following things I love, with people I love, I found my way back here. I thank Theo for writing so many lovely little parts for me.”
In all, 16 juried awards and nine special awards were presented at the annual Theatre Nova Scotia event celebrating the best of professional theatre in the province. Jurors saw 58 plays in 2015, and many actors and productions were given shout-outs during a music-and-humour-filled event produced by Jeremy Webb and hosted by Marty Burt for the fifth time.
Stewart Legere sported a cowboy hat and jean jacket as he accepted the trophy for lead actor for his portrayal of Charlotte von Mahlsdorf in I Am My Own Wife. He said Elizabeth Murphy of Shakespeare by the Sea, which produced the play, took a great risk doing a play about a transgender woman.
Stephanie MacDonald, named best female lead actor for playing Gail, Glory and Rosellen in Watching Glory Die from Mulgrave Road Theatre, said being able to perform the piece inspired by New Brunswick teen Ashley Smith for Smith’s mother was a career highlight. Ashley Smith died in 2007 while in custody at an Ontario prison.
Mauralea Austin claimed the award for female supporting actor for her turn as Aoife in Outside Mullingar at Festival Antigonish.
She said playing a 75-year-old Irish woman was transformative and noted her first thought was that her mother, who died last month and was enthusiastic about all things Irish, would have been “so delighted I was honoured with this.”
Kicking at the Dark Theatre Company’s production of Morris Panych’s The Story of A Sinking Man was named outstanding production by a new or emerging company. Directed by Dorian Lang, it was part of the 2015 Atlantic Fringe Festival in Halifax last September. Those who missed the one-man show starring Andrew Chandler, who accepted the award in character, can catch it again as part of Re-Fringed, a mini-festival of Fringe hits running March 23-26 at the Bus Stop Theatre in Halifax.
Lang’s partner, Colleen MacIsaac, was honoured with the Mayor’s Emerging Theatre Artist Award and received some of the biggest cheers of the evening when she announced she was donating the $1,000 cash value of her prize to kick off Bus Stop Theatre’s new fundraising campaign.
A board member of the artist-run co-op, she said it’s a community made up of people who go the extra mile.
MacIsaac, who is a visual artist, performer and arts administrator and producer, will be appearing with Villain’s Theatre in Follow Me at Re-Fringed this week and will perform in Xara Choral Theatre’s House of Bernarda Alba in May. She also has a script that will be read at the Stages Festival in Halifax in June.
Elizabeth Murphy, who co-founded Shakespeare by the Sea in 1994, served as its general manager and was appointed artistic director in 2007, received the Mayor’s Award for Achievement in Theatre. She said the theatre company, which performs in Halifax’s Point Pleasant Park, has shaped her life. It will face challenges as it heads into its 23rd season, Murphy said, but she looks forward to rebuilding Park Place Theatre, severely damaged by fire in 2014.
Dean Taylor was honoured with the Merritt Volunteer Award for his work with the King’s Shorts 10-Minute Play Festival in Annapolis Royal. The actor, director, festival director and writer, who at 89 has just completed four new works, received a prolonged standing ovation.
Rob Greene was awarded the Wes Daniels Design Award and will work with Valley Summer Theatre this year on sound design. He worked with the Wolfville company on Mass Appeal (2014) and I’ll Be Back Before Midnight (2015).
A music teacher in Halifax regional schools for more than 20 years, he also plays guitar, fiddle and pipes in Celtic Rant and plans to focus on sound design when he retires from teaching this year.
He’ll be reunited with Bruce Klinger, executive producer at Valley Summer Theatre, who was presented with the Theatre Nova Scotia Legacy Award by Cliff LeJeune.
Klinger began his 35-year career in the arts at Neptune Theatre, where he worked in the box office, as front-of-house manager, tour co-ordinator and general manager, among other positions.
LeJeune recalled with glee being part of the 26-week national tour of Neptune’s production of Don Messer’s Jubilee with Klinger and said his friend has “given much of himself and never asked for anything in return but to be part of it.”
Klinger, who started Valley Summer Theatre in 2009, said he is impressed by his fellow Legacy Award recipients.
“To be associated with some of these people who are so important to theatre in Nova
Scotia is very humbling. I’ve known literally every one of them.”
THEATRE NOVA SCOTIA ROBERT MERRITT AWARD WINNERS
Outstanding Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role (female): Stephanie MacDonald as
Gail/Glory/Rosellen in Watching Glory Die by Mulgrave Road Theatre
Outstanding Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role (male): Stewart Legere as
Charlotte Von Mahlsdorf in I Am My Own Wife by Shakespeare by the Sea
Outstanding Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role (female): Mauralea Austin as
Aoife in Outside Mullingar by Festival Antigonish
Outstanding Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role (male): Christopher Little as
Ray Spangler, Finn Vannier, Lee Cassidy, Guy Pope, Mike Wallace, and The Egg Salvador in
Hardboiled — A Sal Dali Crime Tale by LoHiFi Productions
Outstanding Choreography: Jim Morrow (puppetry choreography) for The Tempest by Two
Planks and a Passion Theatre
Outstanding Costume Design: Jennifer Goodman for The Tempest by Two Planks and a
Outstanding Direction: Ken Schwartz for The Tempest by Two Planks and a Passion Theatre
Outstanding Lighting Design: Leigh Ann Vardy for The 39 Steps by Neptune Theatre
Outstanding Musical Direction: Allen Cole for The Highest Tides by Chester Playhouse
Outstanding New Play by a Nova Scotian: Theo Pitsiavas for Hardboiled — A Sal Dali Crime
Tale by LoHiFi Productions
Outstanding Original Score: Allen Cole for The Tempest by Two Planks and a Passion
Outstanding Set Design: Theo Pitsiavas, Christopher Little, Tony Owen for Hardboiled — A
Sal Dali Crime Tale by LoHiFi Productions
Outstanding Sound Design: Brian Riley for Pop-Up Love Party by Zuppa Theatre Company
Outstanding Production by a New or Emerging Company: The Story of a Sinking Man
written by Morris Panych performed by Kick at the Dark Theatre Company
Outstanding Production by an Established Company: The Tempest written by William
Shakespeare performed by Two Planks and Passion Theatre
Outstanding Presentation: The Queen of Paradise’s Garden by Andy Jones Productions,
presented by Eastern Front Theatre
Outstanding Technician: Justin Dakai
Outstanding Stage Manager: Jane Creaser
Outstanding Volunteer: Dean Taylor (King’s Shorts Festival, Annapolis Royal)
Mayor’s Award for Emerging Theatre Artist: Colleen MacIsaac
Mayor’s Award for Achievement in Theatre: Elizabeth Murphy
Theatre Nova Scotia Scholarship: GaRRy Williams and Ivy Charles
Wes Daniel’s Design Award: Rob Greene and Valley Summer Theatre
Theatre Nova Scotia Legacy Award: Bruce Klinger