Twice a year, the Joseph Jefferson Awards Committee honors theatrical productions and artists with “Jeff Awards” – one set of awards for Equity theatre and one set of awards for non-union theatre. The 2015 Non-Equity Jeff Awards ceremony was held at Park West last Monday night, June 8th. Unlike the major awards show the night before (the Tonys), there were no official “winners,” no “Best Musical” or “Best Play.” That is because, as the Jeff Awards website puts it, “The Committee does not endorse the use of the words best or winner. There are no losers in the Chicago theatre community, and Jeff recipients are cited for outstanding achievement rather than the more competitive notion of best.” I admire that attitude, one that was displayed whole-heartedly at the Non-Equity Jeff Awards ceremony, at which the various theatre companies cheered each other on.
Last Monday was a huge night for Bailiwick Chicago’s The Wild Party, as they swept nearly every category for which they were nominated, including Production – Musical, Director – Musical (Brenda Didier), Actor in a Principal Role – Musical (Matthew Keefer), Actress in a Principal Role – Musical (Danni Smith, with her second Jeff of the night), and Ensemble, as well as Choreography (again Brenda Didier), Music Direction (Aaron Benham), and Lighting Design (Brian Hoehne). The other big Jeff recipient was Griffin Theatre’s Men Should Weep, with Jeff Awards for Production – Play, Director – Play (Robin Witt), and Actress in a Principal role – Play (Lori Meyers).
Theo Ubique received four Jeff Awards: Production – Revue and Actress in a Supporting Role – Play (Dani Smith) for Always…Patsy Cline, Actor in a Supporting Role – Musical (Donterrio Johnson) for Jesus Christ Superstar, and Artist Specialization for Aaron Benham’s musical arrangements in A Musical Tribute to the Andrews Sisters. Trap Door’s La Bete received Jeff Awards for Actor in a Principal Role – Play (Kevin Cox) and Costume Design (Rachel Sypniewski). Oracle Productions’s The Jungle also received two JeffAwards, New Adaptation (Matt Foss) and Original Music in a Play (Nicholas Tonozzi and Sam Allyn).
Individual awards went to Steep Theatre Company’s If There Is I Haven’t Found it Yet for Actor in a Supporting Role – Play (Shane Kenyon), Pride Films and Plays’ The Submission (Ginneh Thomas), Jackalope Theatre Company’s Exit Strategy for New Work (Ike Holter, one of my favorite Chicago playwrights), Raven Theatre’s Vieux Carre for Scenic Design (Ray Toler), and Strawdog Theatre Company’s The Arsonists for Sound Design (Sarah Espinoza).
The biggest standing ovations of the night were in recognition of stage managers (unsung heroes of the theatre that they are) and in memory of the people the Chicago theatre community has lost over the past year. A Special Award was also given posthumously to Russ Tutterow, Emeritus Artistic Director of Chicago Dramatists.
Excerpts from all of the productions for play, musical, and revue were performed. My personal favorites were Lifeline Theatre’s Monstrous Regiment (Production – Play nominee for which Chris Hainsworth was also nominated for his hilarious and yet unexpectedly moving adaptation of the Terry Pratchett novel) and “Another National Anthem” from Kokandy Production’s Assassins. Sarah Price is everything I could ask of a Polly/Oliver Perks, and Rob Kauzlaric and Christopher Walsh are both terrific actors and just really, really funny. “Another National Anthem” is chilling in how understandable the characters are – right up until they decide that assassination is the proper conclusion.
Equity theatre in Chicago receives the lion’s share of the acclaim. They receive the Regional Tony Awards and send shows off to Broadway. That said, Chicago also has an incredibly vibrant non-equity theatre scene, and I am glad to see it recognized.