Sunday, 19 May 2013

Festival Finalé

By Brandon Moore, Communications Coordinator

Arriving on Saturday afternoon to catch the end of Festival, you feel like you’re playing catch-up—what’s have I missed, what’s been the source of the most buzz, what’s still to come.

Saturday night featured QUONTA’s representative, Espanola Little Theatre’s production of Looking.  I first heard about Espanola Little Theatre from my friends at Blackhorse Village Players who participated with them in 1997 at Theatre Ontario Festival in Cornwall—the Espanola production of A Woman Without A Name was legendary.  I met many members of the company for the first time in 2000 when I travelled to a QUONTA Festival in North Bay, and at my first Theatre Ontario Festival as a participant with The Curtain Club, we were warmly welcomed with a gift basket from our new friends at Espanola who were performing later that week.  I’ve seen a half dozen of director Walter Maskel’s shows; his attention to detail is one of the qualities that always inspires me as a director.

Looking is a comedy by Norm Foster about four people struggling with relationships—how to start one, whether they really want one, whether they deserve one.  Foster delivers two of his trademarks: good one-liners, and authentic, relatable characters for actors to inhabit.  The company of Jason Morrow, Dario Laurenti, Kathy Carré, and Theresa Laurenti delivered a recognizable and funny portrait of a search for meaningful connection.

At Sunday morning’s adjudication, John P. Kelly and Walter Maskel discussed the subject of abstract expressionism in set design, and how it was applied to Looking.  There is indeed a joy in personal interpretation that comes from abstract work, but there is also a challenge in being too abstract so that no connection is made at all.

John P. also praised the show for its recognition of the power of movement—that of the total of what audiences take in, 60% is visual, 30% is aural, and 10% is emotional.  He also praised the ability to communicate through attention to detail from the first moment of the play—with one character sweating profusely, the other not.  Walter and the team from Espanola were effusive in their praise for the team from the host theatre, Domino Theatre.

The adjudication wrapped up and we all travelled down to the hotel ballroom for the Awards Brunch.  We enjoyed a delicious meal then settled in for the awards presentations.

First, Joe O’Brien of Ottawa was honoured with this year’s Michael Spence Award for Contribution to Community Theatre, and gave heartfelt thanks for being recognized for what he valued so much.

Then, John P was up to praise the participating companies and present his awards.  Theatre Night in Merrickville received three awards, Best Supporting Actor for Peter Crate, and Adjudicator’s Awards for the properties (including the turkey!) and the live musicians.

Theatre Ensemble received four awards: Best Actor for Jeff Bastien’s memorable performance, Adjudicator’s Awards for original music and juvenile (Stage Manager Kyla Chandler), and the Perry Short Award to set designer (Jeff Bastien again) with the grant for a training opportunity for him.

Markham Little Theatre received two awards: Best Supporting Actress to Anne-Maria Hurle, and Best Actress to Michèle Browne—her third Theatre Ontario Festival Best Actress award.

But the big winner was Espanola Little Theatre which took six awards back north—Best Director for Walter Maskel, Best Technical Achievement, Best Visual Presentation, Best Coordinated Production (chosen by Festival Stage Manager Bob Brooks), an Adjudicator’s Award for the best moment of theatre (the vocal choreography at the end of Act One), and the Elsie Award for Best Festival Production.

The full list of nominees is available on the Theatre Ontario website, as is the live-blog of the awards presentation.

The winners posed for photographs, new friends exchanged bittersweet goodbyes, and John L’Heureux of Sarnia extended a warm welcome to come to Sarnia for the next Theatre Ontario Festival.

We’ll see you May 14, 2014.

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