General 10-3-2006

The Ivey Awards: The Best of Twin Cities Theater?

Jaime Kleiman gives us the scoop on the Ivey Awards, the big annual party for the Twin Cities theater community. Who won and why? Read on.

Ivey League

The 2nd annual Ameriprise Financial Ivey Awards, held in downtown Minneapolis’ State Theatre on Monday, September 25, produced some surprises, including two prizes for the Children’s Theatre Company’s Reeling, a play told in the format of a silent film. Actor Dean Holt won for “channeling the spirit” of the silent screen legend Buster Keaton, and playwright Barry Kornhauser was honored for “best concept and a bold creative approach.” This is funny because, well, playwrights usually win prizes for their dexterous language, and actors often win prizes for speaking and interpreting it.

Project founder and director (and devoted theatergoer) Scott Mayer wanted to create an awards show, he says, “Because it seemed odd to me that the Twin Cities has such a phenomenal theatre scene that we pride ourselves on, but had done nothing to celebrate that fact. Most major cities have some sort of ceremony that honors theatre, and I thought it was time we did that as well.” Indeed, watching the Iveys is to become acutely aware of all of the professional theatre companies in the Twin Cities, ranging from the behemoth Guthrie to the low budget start-up.

The Iveys operate much like the Village Voice’s highly regarded Obie Awards, which honors Off Broadway productions. Like the Obies, there are no set categories and no official nominations, but the selection process for the Iveys is community, rather than critic, based.

Ivey Award Recipients are selected using a multi-pronged process, the primary tool being 110 volunteer audience evaluators who see as many shows as possible during the year. Evaluators fill out an in-depth evaluation form for each show; much like a standardized test, there is a numerical ranking system and an essay portion. Mayer trains his team to take their jobs seriously. In the name of fairness and what Mayer admits is partly due to “Minnesota niceness,” shows are reviewed on their own merits and are not pitted against one another.

This season, audience evaluator Scott Pakudaitis saw about 3-4 shows a month (or approximately 42 shows this ear, not including the 60-plus Fringe shows he hit in August). For Pakudaitis, the rating system makes sense. “My role as an evaluator is to look at production from the audience perspective,” he explains. “Was it good? Did I enjoy it? Was it entertaining? I’m not gonna try to go into theatre theory or critique or, like a critic, try to compare it to other shows. Each show is supposed to stand on its own. We look at the elements of theatre—acting, sets, props, choreography, costuming, music, sound, lighting—and ask, ‘Did these elements come together to create a theatrical experience?’”

Anyone else—you, your friend, an out-of-town visitor, your mother—who wants to have a say about a specific production can log onto the Ivey Awards Web site,, and fill out a brief questionnaire. Finally, an 11-person advisory committee reviews the results before they’re announced.

The awards ceremony is a theatrical experience unto itself, complete with musical excerpts and kitschy, self-referential theatre jokes. This year’s incidental numbers included performances by the “Ivey League,” a troupe of actors made up of some of last year’s winners; a song-and-dance number from Plymouth Playhouse’s Church Basement Ladies; and a chorus of some of the most promising young talent around, belting out “The New World” from Jason Robert Brown’s musical Songs For a New World.

Twin Citians showed up in their finest clothes, wearing everything from velvet evening gowns, to lively thrift store finds, to suits offset by colorful silk shirts that normally wouldn’t make it out the door. Adding to the glamour of the evening were hosts Craig Lucas and Isabell Monk O’Connor. Lucas penned the Tony Award-nominated Prelude to a Kiss; he received another Tony nom for writing the book of the musical The Light in the Piazza. O’Connor is a longtime Guthrie company member and an Obie-awarding actor.

The general vibe of the Iveys is that “everyone is a winner.” This is not true, of course, because only a handful of theatre professionals actually were winners on Monday. A full list of honorees follows.

Youth Performance Company snagged the first award for The Talk: An Intercourse on Coming of Age, for “most unique concept.”

Dean Holt and Barry Kornhauser for their work in Children’s Theatre Company’s Reeling.

Jim Lichtscheidl received recognition for the writing and performing of the theatrical sitcom Knock!.

Director Ben Krywoscz and musical director Mindy Eschedor for their work in Nautilus Music-Theater’s I Am Anne Frank, a dramatic musicalization inspired by Frank’s journals.

Gerry Girouard won for his inventive, tango-infused choreography in Off Leash Area’s dance-theatre piece, Crimes and Whispers. Paul Herwig, who directed the show, accepted it in Girouard’s absence, saying, “This is just like Gerry. He said he was supposed to come but he isn’t here. He’s so brilliant onstage but he can barely get out the door.”

The Illusion Theater won an award for the “emotional impact” of their production of Jane Martin’s Sez She, directed by dramaturg Liz Engelman and Guthrie Director of Studio Programming_Michael Bigelow Dixon.

The Jungle Theater was recognized twice: Joel Sass for his innovative set design for Last of the Boys, and Bradley Greenwald for his performance in the Sass-directed I Am My Own Wife.

The two biggest awards of the evening—the Emerging Artist Award and the Lifetime Achievement Award—went to Christiana Clark and Jack Reuler, respectively. Reuler is the founding artistic director of the 30-year-old Mixed Blood Theatre. Inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King, Mixed Blood’s mission is to promote cultural pluralism and pursue a culturally rich, culturally conscious America. Reuler is also a recipient of the 2006 “Local Legend Award” from the United Negro College Fund/General Mills Foundation. If you’ve never seen a Mixed Blood show before, avail yourself of the opportunity to see their production of Yellowman, which runs at the Guthrie’s Studio Theater through Oct. 29.