Last night, the Ivey Awards for local theater continued its hallowed tradition of honoring pretty much every musical produced in town last year. The opening number alone—a shout-out to costume designers—contained characters from Annie , Hairspray , H.M.S. Pinafore , Avenue Q , and several other productions, all packed onto the stage in a boffo bearhug of self-congratulation.
Which is entirely appropriate for the Iveys. The awards are a “celebration” of local theater, not a competition, so it’s really about acknowledging all the hard work and talent that goes into the hundreds of productions that appear on Twin Cities stages every year, most of which passes into history under-appreciated and unacknowledged. The Ivey awards redress this wrong by cherry-picking a few notable achievements. And, because there are no special criteria for winning an Ivey (theoretically, anyone can win, and, aside from the Emerging Artist and Lifetime Achievement Awards, there are no categories), a majority of the people in attendance are technically eligible.
Which is to say, winning an Ivey Award is a total crap shoot. The exception last night was Jungle artistic director Bain Boehlke, who was the odds-on favorite to win this year’s Lifetime Achievement Award. He did, and no one deserves it more. Boehlke has probably contributed more extraordinary theater to the Twin Cities—as an actor and associate artistic director at the Children’s Theatre Co. for 13 years, and as the founder and artistic director of The Jungle Theater—than anyone else alive. Boehlke has been consistently brilliant for more than 50 years, and is still going strong. If you want proof, go check out his remarkable interpretation of Hamlet , which is currently playing at the Jungle. The vitality and imagination he puts into every production—indeed, every detail of every production—is just extraordinary.
Anna Sundberg won the Best Emerging Artist award for her work with several small theater companies over the past few years. She is currently appearing in Walking Shadow Theater Co.’s reasons to be pretty , at The Guthrie Theater’s Dowling Studio.
As for the rest of the awards, the Ivey committee chose to recognize the following people and productions:
—Ten Thousand Things theater company, for its production, Doubt .
—Live Action Set for its production, The 7-shot Symphony .
—Peter Hansen, for his performance in Gremlin Theater’s Burn This .
—Dennis Spears for his performance as Nat King Cole in I Wish You Love, at Penumbra Theater.
—Ben Bakken for his performance as Jesus in Chanhassen Dinner Theatre’s Jesus Christ Superstar.
—Craig Johnson for directing Street Scene , by Girl Friday Productions.
—Gary Rue, for his musical direction in the History Theatre’s production, Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story .
—David Bolger for his choreography work in the Guthrie Theater’s H.M.S. Pinafore .
Something to keep in mind for next year, all you Ivey coordinators and reviewers. First, slipping the In Memorium segment in at the beginning, while people are still streaming in and no one is paying much attention, is disrespectful of the departed. It belongs before the Lifetime Achievement Award, where it can act as a breather before the big award is given out—and people will actually pay attention to it.
Also notice, please, how ridiculously over-represented musicals are at the Iveys. The show itself features nothing but musicals, which is fine, but when the pop-musical bias leaks over into the awards themselves, the process needs to be reassessed. Only three dramatic productions were even mentioned this year, and absolutely no new work—when, in reality, the ratio of dramatic productions to musicals is probably ten or twenty to one. Which means, of course, that many good productions and performances—and quite a few great ones—were entirely overlooked. It’s a celebration, remember, so it’d be nice if there were more to celebrate than just popular musicals.