Entertainment

Dora theatre award nominees named in Toronto

A shocking, stripped-down production of Hamlet, a haunting reimagining of The Flying Dutchman and the rock musical The Toxic Avenger are lead contenders for the 2010 Dora Mavor Moore Awards, Toronto's annual celebration of theatre, opera and dance.
Tarragon Theatre's If We Were Birds starred, from left, Shannon Perrault, Karen Robinson, Philippa Domville, Tara Rosling, Barbara Gordon and Daniela Lama. ((Cylla von Tiedemann/Tarragon Theatre))
A shocking, stripped-down production of Hamlet, a haunting reimagining of The Flying Dutchman and the rock musical The Toxic Avenger are lead contenders for the 2010 Dora Mavor Moore Awards, Toronto's annual celebration of theatre, opera and dance.

Selected nominees:

GENERAL THEATRE

Production: Parfumerie; If We Were Birds; Hamlet; Courageous; 7 Stories.

New play: Courageous; Such Creatures; If We Were Birds; Refugee Hotel; Letters to my Grandma.

MUSICAL THEATRE

Production: The Toxic Avenger Musical; The Light in the Piazza; Mimi; Assassins; Altar Boyz.

New musical or opera: The Children's Crusade; The Princess & the Handmaiden; Robin Hood, The Environmental Family Musical; Giiwedin; Mimi.

OPERA

Production: The Nightingale and Other Short Fables; The Marriage of Figaro; The Flying Dutchman; The Children's Crusade; Maria Stuarda.

INDEPENDENT THEATRE

Production: The Turn of the Screw; The Mill; Spent; Goodness; Blind Date.

New play or musical: Pu-Erh; Spent; The Mill (Part Two): The Huron Bride; Gas Girls; La Comunion.

Young Audiences

Production: Twelfth Night; There's a Mouse in my House; Rocket and the Queen of Dreams; In This World; Five.

DANCE

Production: To Be Straight with You; this time; Shoot the Moon/Wings of Wax/The Second Person; Giselle; El 12.

New choreography: Facts of Influence: Bliss; Full Bloom; Dafeena; Dances in a Small Room: Half an Hour of Our Time; this time.

Organizers announced on Wednesday the 174 nominees who will be vying for 35 Dora categories at the annual awards gala in June.

In the general theatre division, Necessary Angel's controversial, shortened version of Hamlet, presented at the Harbourfront Centre, led with six nominations, including for outstanding production.

Its competition in the category includes Parfumerie (Soulpepper Theatre Company), Courageous (Tarragon Theatre/Citadel Theatre), 7 Stories (Canadian Stage Company/Theatre Calgary) and If We Were Birds (Tarragon Theatre/Groudwater Productions).

The Mill, a four-play series presented by Theatrefront and the Young Centre for the Performing Arts, led the independent theatre division with seven nominations.

The Canadian Opera Company once again soared high in the opera division, earning seven nominations for Dutchman as well as its Maria Stuarda and Robert Lepage's acclaimed The Nightingale and Other Short Fables.

The Dietrich Group's Paris 1994/Gallery and this time (an adelheid dance projects production presented by Factory Theatre) are the lead nominees in dance, with three nods each.

Roseneath Theatre's Rocket and the Queen of Dreams earned a leading three nominations in the young audiences division, while the five nods for Dancap's The Toxic Avenger Musical makes it the production to beat in the Dora's new musical theatre division.

A full list of nominees is available on the website of the Toronto Alliance for the Performing Arts, which administers the annual gala.

Dedication to theatre honoured

On Wednesday, organizers also announced the recipients of two special awards.

Natasha Parsons, who has served as box office and front-of-house manager at Toronto's Tarragon Theatre for 16 years, received the Leonard McHardy and John Harvey Award. Now in its third year, the prize honours administrative theatre employees — staffers whose hard work does not appear on stage — and carries a prize of $1,000.

Award-winning veteran actor R.H. Thomson received the Barbara Hamilton Memorial Award. Also carrying a prize of $1,000, the award celebrates a performance artist for excellence as well as for serving as an arts advocate and ambassador. Past winners include Maureen Forrester, William Hutt, Karen Kain, Martha Burns and John Neville.

[The public is] pummelled with narrative….audiences are becoming jaded and putting up a thicker skin to this barrage of attention-seeking writing.

Thomson, whose decades-long career has spanned theatre, TV, film and installation, used his Dora win to make an impassioned plea about the need to revitalize both narrative storytelling as well as the actual theatre spaces of acclaimed companies in the same way that many Toronto visual arts and music venues have in recent years.

In English Canada, the narrative arts "are only holding steady," he told CBC News. "Musical theatre and opera are on the rise and that's great. I'm a champion of that. But there's something about narrative... that's losing its broader grip."

Actor, director and playwright R.H. Thomson. (Sandy Nicholson/Soulpepper Theatre Co.)
With the onslaught of over-the-top stories and content coming from a myriad of sources today — including from TV, films, video games and online — competition for an audience's attention is tougher than ever. The public is "pummelled with narrative," Thomson said.

As a result, "audiences are becoming jaded and putting up a thicker skin to this barrage of attention-seeking writing," he said, noting the proliferation of stories for cultural consumers versus cultural participants.

"To turn you into a consumer, I do a thousand fast cuts. I have wall-to-wall music … to tell you what to feel, when to feel it," Thomson said.

On the opposite end is "a thoughtful play, which takes time to think [about], time to sit and [engage] with," he noted. "When you're a participant, you have to sit there and far more of you is engaged. You expend more energy emotionally, mental energy, spiritual energy and that's what theatres do. They want participants."

Theatre companies, many of whom are winning acclaim for challenging works but toiling away in deteriorating facilities, need support and investment, Thomson said.

"You always have to support the marginal alternatives to the mainstream," he said.

"It's the margins that have always thrown the new ideas into the centre, which will renew the centre."

The 31st annual Dora Mavor Moore Awards, hosted by CBC Radio personality Jian Ghomeshi, will take place on June 28 at Toronto's St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts — itself celebrating its 40th anniversary this year.