The closing show of the annual Newfoundland and Labrador Drama Festival usually garners the largest audience, because hard on its heels the festival adjudicator declares the winners in the event.
Last Saturday night was no exception to the rule. Following the conclusion of Mokami Players’ “Bedtime Stories,” adjudicator Linda Boyd — with whom you will be familiar if you follow “Republic of Doyle” (as who does not?) — announced her decisions on individual and collective festival awards and trophies.
First up was the youngest player in the festival, Nicole Locke, who played the poised, but determined suicidal daughter in the Carol Players’ production of “‘Night Mother.” She was the recipient of two individual awards, The D. A. Matthews Memorial Scholarship and The Thompson Trophy for best actor under the age of 21. The Transcontinental Media Scholarship Award to cover costs for a course in theatre training went to Ryan Pierce, who suavely played Anton Schindler, Beethoven’s crafty secretary, in “33 Variations,” mounted by Gander’s Avion Players.
The same play attracted The Chairman’s Award for best supporting performance by a woman, awarded to Julia McDonald for her portrayal of the earnest Austrian archivist of the Beethoven Library, together with best supporting performance by a man, Greg Blumer, playing the Austrian musician, Anton Diabelli. Best Festival performance by a man, The Honorary Chairman’s Award, also went to a principal of “33 Variations,” Bert Peddle in the role of Ludwig van Beethoven.
In the tough and crowded category of best performance by a woman, the adjudicator named four outstanding candidates for The Chrissi Andrews Memorial Award before opting for Ruth Simmons in the role of Mrs. Davies, the midwife who delivered a future Welsh boxing champion, in Sunil Kuruvilla’s “Fighting Words,” produced by Northern Lights Theatre of Labrador West. This production also received the festival award for Best Canadian Play.
Recognizing one of the key company personnel who are never seen on stage, The Neala F. Griffith Trophy for direction went to Jordan Stringer, who capably interpreted and oversaw Terry Johnson’s complex “Hysteria” for Corner Brook’s Off Broadway Players. If directors are the Mafia dons of theatrical productions (to stretch a metaphor), stage managers are undoubtedly their enforcers - the guys and gals who get things done. The festival award for this function went to Lynne Sooley for her seamless management of “33 Variations.”
The OZ-FM Award for imagination and excellence in sound usually goes to a sound designer or technician. In this case, it deservedly went to Jeanne Collins, the fine classical pianist, subtly lit behind the upstage scrim at a grand piano, who effortlessly played and interpreted passages from The Diabelli Variations,” creating the indispensable running soundscape to this play about music. As well as receiving this tribute to aural and aesthetic excellence, “33 Variations” was awarded The Hans Tode Memorial Trophy for innovative and imaginative set design, accepted by collaborative designers Annette Crummey, Claude House, and Nick Mercer.
The Harvey Rose Bowl for best visual presentation, the oldest trophy in the Festival, went to “Hysteria,” an acknowledgement of the excellent work of numerous backstage contributors to set design, lighting, costumes and make-up For costumes explicitly, The Allan R. Hillier Award was also made to this production and to costumier Amy Andrews, as was The Allan Power Trophy for excellence in lighting — designed by Neil Robbins and operated by Rebecca Pike. And a new recognition for theatrical properties, awarded for the first time, in honour of long-serving festival treasurer, Elizabeth F. Ireland, also went to Off-Broadway Players’ “Hysteria,” with collective kudos to Sandy Wiseman, Sheldon Parsons, Rebecca Pike, Jim Parsons and Neil Robbins.
The most numinous of the festival’s prizes is The Margaret Doyle Trophy, awarded to the individual or group best exemplifying the spirit of theatre sharing, co-operation and support. It went to Craig Robinson who ran sound on Northern Lights’ “Fighting Words.”
Perhaps the most prized (and definitive?) of the festival’s many awards and trophies are the governmental Festival Award for best presentation of a full-length play, selected at the discretion of the adjudicator, together with The Newfoundland Herald Audience Appreciation Award, determined by vote of audience members holding series tickets for the full slate of plays. It is satisfying when the two recognitions coincide, as they rightly did on this occasion, with Gander’s Avion Players receiving both for their admirable production of Moises Kaufman’s “33 Variations.”
In closing the 62nd Newfoundland and Labrador Drama Festival (celebrated in St. John’s for the first time in 10 years — though with no entry from the capital city), Honorary Chairman John Perlin announced that the venue for the 2013 Festival will be Happy Valley-Goose Bay, while inviting government to contribute generously to travel costs to enable community groups from across the province to participate in this long-standing and invaluable festival.