Montreal English Theatre
Honours Its Own
META Awards 2015-2016 season breaks new ground
By Byron Toben
Only year four, but the pizzazz-laden META (Montreal English Theatre Awards) has become a treasured part of the local celebratory scene. Our own little Oscars, where normally tee-shirt-and-jean clad theatre people, many living near the Mile End and Plateau areas, are all spiffy and even (gulp) glamorous.
Near the end of this review of the October 24 event is the link to the full list of the 45 nominees in 17 categories, with winners highlighted.
I will go into some more detail on some of them, but first would like to remind readers that the METAs are a peer reviewed selection by actors and other professional theatre people, which as in sports, has more creditability than by journalists or academics.
Nevertheless, before the present gala event at the luxurious Rialto was inaugurated, let’s acknowledge the now terminated MECCAs, a critic’s opinion selection, for keeping the torch of recognition burning for some years until the METAs came along. That was largely due to the dedication of Estelle Rosen (CKUT), Noel Boyce (Mirror) and Gaetan Charlebois (Charlebois Post).
My own reviews of the METAs over the past three years have been more as an event unto itself rather than just a recitation of who won what.
… the METAs are a peer reviewed selection by actors and other professional theatre people, which as in sports, has more creditability than by journalists or academics.
As for all three prior years, music for the evening was composed and directed by Nick Carpenter. The innovation this year was that the band, dubbed the METAfour (get it?) was comprised of well-known local actors to support Nick’s piano. They were Shawn Baichoo (drums), Shawn Campbell (bass) and Alain Goulem (guitar). Multi-talented guys, who knew? Hopefully, we will hear their blend again.
Lyrics were devised, as usual by a melange of writers, hosts and the ten-person META committee.
Songs opening the evening, warbled by the hosts (below), started with “Montreal, you back for more? Welcome to the META core” and ended with “Meanwhile I keep on rolling, go the mile, heart’n soul’n, taxman keep on circling’, I love this life, it sure beats workin”. After various musical passages during pauses, Act One ended with a short number to herald the intermission. The second act opened with a choir piece “Light. We are voice. We are standing here. We are power, and story, and fire…”
Hosts and Presenters
Julie Tamiko Manning and Warona Setshwaelo were the bouncy overall hosts. To open the second act, and in keeping with this year’s theme of diversity, they changed gowns, Ms Manning donning a Kimono and Ms Setshwaelo an African wrap.
I wasn’t sure how much of their patter and ebullience was improvised and how much owed to writers Michael Mackenzie and the ubiquitous Harry Standjofski.
They ably introduced a series of presenters (many of them candidates in other categories, as were the band members).
… a trio of American Sign Language experts ‘signed’ the goings-on, especially à propos this year, as deaf actor Jack Volpe was up for his mostly mute performance in Tribes.
One unique presenter group was Alarey Alsip, Fanny LaCroix and Melanie St-Jacques, all holding their recent babies, as they presented the nominees for outstanding original composition and outstanding contribution to theatre. I hope they got photos of this, great to show the kids, say 6 years from now, their truly early first appearance on stage. Upon exiting the stage, Ms La Croix handed her infant to hubby Shawn Campbell in the band, necessitating his leaving the stage for a while, but back in time to strum on.
Another presenter combo was the tall Deborah Forde (QDF) and the shortish Amy Blackmore (Fringe) needing a mike adjustment. I’d love to see Ms Blackmore (producer, director, choreographer) play Hermia in Midsummer Night’s Dream, “Though she be little, yet she is fierce”. They announced the Outstanding Community Production.
Throughout the evening, a trio of American Sign Language experts ‘signed’ the goings-on, especially à propos this year, as deaf actor Jack Volpe was up for his mostly mute performance in Tribes.
Another amusing presenter bit was Alain Goulem translating for Chip Chuipka speaking only the invented vaguely Balkan language he spoke as the General in Butcher.
Two juries of theatre professionals select the winners in the various categories – 19 for professional productions and 11 for community productions. New juries are assembled each year.
In addition to the 17 categories, there are two honorary categories – the Unsung Hero of Theatre, won this year by Steve Schon, and the Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Award, won by the Black Theatre Workshop Mentor Program.
I notice that I had seen and reviewed 41 of the 45 shows involved. Someone asked if I had nothing better to do. I guess not. The ones I missed were out on the West Island, a bit difficult as these days I travel only by BMW (Bus, Metro, Walk).
Note that all of the winning categories are dubbed ‘outstanding’, not ‘best’. I like that because so many nominations are top notch as well – a little thing that fosters solidarity.
The Adventures of A Black Girl In Search of God (Centaur/Black Theatre workshop/National Arts Centre) garnered the most (six) cylindrical META trophies. These were for: Outstanding Professional Production – Direction (Djanet Sears); Original Composition (Djanet Sears and Alexandra Nunez); Lighting (Jason Hand); Contribution to Theatre (the 14-strong Chorus) and Lead Male Performer (Walter Borden).
Mr Borden, a stage vet of 50 years, won the audience with his heartfelt acceptance and gratitude for the chance to appear in this transformative show. “For some 30 years”, he quipped, “there was only was only one professional black actor east of Montreal… and that was me! Today, there are 190.” Click to view my review of that super show for WestmountMag.ca last winter.
Triple Awards went to Louis Riel: A Comic Strip Stage Play (RustWerk ReFinery), for Outstanding New Text (Zach Fraser), Outstanding Ensemble and Outstanding Independent Production.
Double Awards went to two shows:
Funny Girl (Segal Centre), for Outstanding Set Design and Outstanding Costume Design (both Michael Gianfrancesco).
Compleat Female Stage Beauty (Persephone Productions), for Outstanding supporting Actress and Outstanding Emerging Artist (both Alex Petrachuck – she also won for Moby Dick)
Butcher (Centaur) brought Supporting Actor to Chip Chuipka and Love, Child (Level 4 Theatre), Lead Actress to Anana Rybold.
The Producers (Dora Wasserman Yiddish Theatre/Côte St Luc Dramatic Society) received the Community Production Award.
Next year a new category of ‘Drama Teacher’ is slated to be added.
Click to see the complete list of nominees and, highlighted in red, the winners.
For those who care to scan my reviews of the winning shows when they ran, search the show title on this site. You can also subscribe free to WestmountMag.ca’s email which will keep you informed on my occasional film festival reports or lectures on important subjects. Also, neat stuff by others on real estate, travel, recipes, music, and more.
Images: courtesy of Black Theatre Workshop
Byron Toben is the immediate past-president of the Montreal Press Club