Dany Lyne, a Toronto-based set and costume designer, says the richness of theatre drew her in, when she had already tried interior decorating, graphic design and had ambitions to be a painter. ((Siminovitch Prize))

Toronto set and costume designer Dany Lyne has won the $100,000 Elinore & Lou Siminovitch Prize for 2006, Canada's largest annual theatre award.

Lyne was named as winner Tuesday in a ceremony at University of Toronto's Hart House.

Lyne has been involved in 72 productions in Canada, the U.S. and Europe, including shows at the Stratford Festival, the Canadian Opera Company and Soulpepper Theatre.

She recently collaborated with the National Arts Centre in Ottawaon its production of The Wrong Son.

The jury of the Siminovitch Prize, chaired by Leonard McHardy of TheatreBooks in Toronto, was particularly impressed by her versatility.

"She rises to the demands of working in the realm of opera, while also being able to deftly apply her creative vision to productions for both small and large theatres," the jury said in its citation.

"We found Dany's sensibility, while being distinctly Canadian, has been honed by international experience. She has become a designer of great Canadian significance," McHardy said.

The Siminovitch prize rotates in a three-year cycle from playwriting, to direction to design —this year focusing on theatre design.

Lyne was selected ahead of four other finalists:

  • Judith Bowden, set and costume designer for the Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont.
  • Danièle Lévesque, who heads the set design and costume program for the National Theatre School of Canada.
  • Bretta Gerecke, an Edmonton-based set and lighting designer.
  • Anick La Bissonnière, a Montreal-based set designer.

Under the unique formula of the Siminovitch Prize, Lyne wins $75,000 and can give the remaining $25,000 to a protégé.

She has selected two Toronto set and costumer designers as her protégés, Camellia Koo and April Anne Viczko.

Found an outlet

In her acceptance speech, Lyne said she had always wanted to be an artist and that the dream kept her going through an abusive upbringing. But it took her some time to find the right creative outlet.

"I was 26, and had already worked in interior decoration, graphic design, font design and was attempting to become a painter," she recalled.

An introduction to theatre course at the Ontario College of Art showed her the way.

"The sheer multi-dimensionality of theatre filled me with incredible awe: not only is it three-dimensional visually, it is space-specific, unfolds in real time, includes spoken or sung word, explores the truths and lies of existence through narrative, and engages the soul of the musician and the expressiveness of the human body," she said.

She recalled the magic of opening nights and the miracle of many minds working together to stage a production.

"In close collaboration with the director, I strive to create a visual poetic-arc that best supports the unfolding story and best represents the emotional landscape of the characters," she said, in describing her creative process.

But she had harsh words for the underfunding of the theatre scene in Canada, saying German designers can make a living from two shows a year, while in Canada she would not be able to live on two shows a year.

"One has to book oneself absolutely solid and overlap projects to make a moderately decent living. This is exhausting and unsustainable," Lyne said.

She urged higher minimum pay scales for designers and more government support for theatre.

"Theatre is the heart of a nation, a place where we can face ourselves, we can tell our stories, break our silences, save a few lives, literally and spiritually speaking," she said.