L-r: Grant Linneberg, Eugene Stickland, Christopher Hunt
By Eugene Stickland, Grand Poohbah of Arts and Culture
The Betty Mitchell Awards moved back to their favourite home at the revamped Stage West and as things go, there is something about stuffing yourself with shrimp and crab and roast beef and having a couple of drinks that makes any awards show all the more pleasant.
Co-hosts Karen Johnson-Diamond and Kevin Rothery did an admirable job keeping the evening moving along at a swift pace – helped in part by the fact the earlier date for the event meant that many of the award recipients weren’t actually in attendance. Written thank-yous tend to be briefer and more to the point than those spoken, or at times, indeed, even gushed.
I remember when the Betty’s came into being. I actually won one the first year for a play of mine. All in all, it won four awards that night and I remember thinking to myself, “this is nice. This is easy.”
I haven’t won since and so, as more great work gets done in Calgary and as time marches on, one realizes how truly special it is to win a Betty Mitchell Award to put on one’s mantle.
Since those early years, the voting system has changed, making it harder for the big companies with more personnel to put a lock on the awards. This year, for example, the city’s largest company, Theatre Calgary, was virtually shut out of the awards entirely. In my mind, this reflects more of a home town bias than the quality of work seen at Theatre Calgary of late. The work has been excellent, but the smaller companies seem to be the sentimental favourites these days.
Of these smaller companies, Sage and Ghost River come to mind. Ghost River, in particular, did well with its excellent production of ONE, which seems to be showing in Toronto presently which had David Van Belle scrambling up on stage on several occasions, which I’m sure he didn’t mind at all.
There were a number of special moments on Monday night.
For any number of reasons, not the least of which being the passing of his beloved dog a few days ago, everyone had to be hoping for Mark Bellamy to have a good night. We probably wouldn’t even have the Betty Mitchell Awards if not for Mark’s work in the early years. And when one thinks of where he’s taken Vertigo Theatre during his tenure as Artistic Director, well you can only shake your head and wonder and even be a little in awe of his vision and talent and energy.
So, yes, it was a special moment when the Betty for Outstanding Direction went to Mark Bellamy for Vertigo Theatre’s production of The 39 Steps. And it was perhaps an even more special moment when he took the stage with Jonathan Christenson from Catalyst Theatre in Edmonton for the Betty for Outstanding Production of a Musical, for Nevermore, a co-co-pro between Vertigo, Catalyst and One Yellow Rabbit.
One of my favourite productions this season was reasons to be pretty, produced by Ground Zero Theatre and Hit & Myth Productions. I may be a little bit biased, having worked on a few shows with the boys, but I like the energy and the attitude and the exuberance that Ryan Luhning and Joel Cochrane bring to the theatre.
The production was awarded FFWD Magazine’s People’s Choice Award. It also garnered a somewhat surprising — but totally deserved — award for Outstanding Set Design for Deitra Kalyn.
But the award closest to my heart given out at this year’s Betty’s was to Patrick MacEachern for Outstanding Performance by an Actor in a Drama. Watching Patrick’s performance this year was one of the beautiful events that make the theatre magical. He nailed it, right off the top with his energy and force, and by the end of the play, by revealing the immense sensitivity of his heart.
It was one for the ages – and good to see a good man get some well deserved kudos.
One would have to think that Betty Mitchell is smiling down on this entire theatre community that we have in Calgary, that is thought by many to be the best in the land.
It was a good night.
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