June 6, 2016 – Chicago, IL. “The Hairy Ape”- Eugene O’Neill’s expressionist play presented in a stark, brutal and imaginative setting; “Byhalia, Mississippi”- a new work of southern love and forgiveness, and “Rent”- the musical update of “La Boheme” performed in a small storefront theatre, took home the most honors on Monday, June 6, at Park West during the 43rd Annual Non-Equity Jeff Awards ceremony recognizing excellence in non-union Chicago theatre.
Griffin Theatre Company’s “London Wall”, a play about women in a London law firm in 1931, took top honors for Production-Play; “Rent,” performed by Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre, received the Jeff Award for Production-Musical or Revue; and two productions tied for the coveted Ensemble Award: Steep Theatre Company’s production of “Posh”, a story of a night of debauchery by Oxford prep school boys, and “Direct from Death Row The Scottsboro Boys”, a vaudeville-type telling of the infamous case of nine African-American teenagers falsely accused of assaulting two white Alabama women, produced by Raven Theatre.
“Byhalia, Mississippi” performed by The New Colony and Definition Theatre Company, received Jeff Awards for Actress in a Supporting Role-Play (Cecelia Wingate), Scenic Design (John Wilson) and New Work (Evan Linder). Oracle Theatre’s “The Hairy Ape” received awards for Actor in a Principal Role-Play (Julian Parker), Sound Design (Jeffrey Levin) and Artistic Specialization (Breon Arzell for his step design). “Rent” was honored for Production-Musical or Revue, Direction of a Musical or Revue (Scott Weinstein), Music Direction (Jeremy Ramey) and Actor in a Supporting Role-Musical or Revue (Aubrey McGrath). Robin Witt received the award for Direction – Play for “London Wall” at Griffin Theatre Company.
Long-time Chicago actors Karl Hamilton and Sarah Hayes returned as emcees for the award show. Brenda Didier directed Monday’s ceremony, with musical direction provided by Jimmy Morehead. John D. Glover, Non-Equity Wing Chair of the Jeff Committee, produced the event.
David Liesse, Chair of the 55-member Jeff Awards Committee, welcomed the audience and presented this year’s Special Jeff Award honoring director Kimberly Senior for her efforts as a mentor to emerging directors and her advocacy in helping to promote the careers of fellow artists.
Other individual acting awards went to JP Pierson for his turn as the flamboyant Mendy in Eclipse Theatre Company’s “The Lisbon Traviata”, Amanda Horvath in the sex and violence rock opera “Murder Ballad” at Bailiwick Chicago, Quinton Guyton as Mama Jackson in MPAACT’s “Lawd the CVS is Burning…A Gospel Musical Stage Play”, Courtney Mack as Valerie, the sweet girl wanting to fit in, in “Heathers: The Musical” produced by Kokandy Productions, and to Amanda Drinkall as May in the two-person play, “Last Train to Nibroc,” produced by Haven Theatre. Anna Dauzvardis was honored with the award for Solo Performance in “Liberty City” at eta Creative Arts Foundation.
Additional technical nods went to Lighting Designer Charles Cooper for “Murder Ballad” at Bailiwick Chicago, and to Costume Designer John Nasca for “Design for Living” at Pride Films and Plays. The award for Choreography was presented to Sawyer Smith for his work with “Heathers: The Musical” at Kokandy Productions.
Two recipients were recognized for their New Adaptations: Elizabeth Lovelady for “D.O.A.” at Strawdog Theatre Company and Christina Calvit for “Miss Buncle’s Book” at Lifeline Theatre.
For the third consecutive year, the annual awards gala sold out with almost 700 guests, and featured production numbers from the season’s nominated musicals and revues, as well as excerpts from the season’s nominated plays.
The Jeff Awards has been honoring outstanding theatre artists annually since established in 1968. With up to 55 members representing a wide variety of backgrounds in theatre, the Jeff Awards is committed to celebrating the vitality of Chicago area theatre by recognizing excellence through its recommendations, awards and honors. The Jeff Awards fosters artistic growth of area theatres and theatre artists and promotes educational opportunities, audience appreciation, and civic pride in the achievements of the theatre community. The Jeff Awards evaluates more than 250 theatrical productions and host two awards ceremonies annually. Originally chartered to recognize only Equity productions, the Jeff Awards established the Non-Equity Wing in 1973 to celebrate outstanding achievement in non-union theatre. The next Equity Awards Ceremony, honoring productions presented under union contracts, is on Monday, October 17, 2016, at Drury Lane Oakbrook in Oakbrook Terrace.
2016 Non-Equity Jeff Award Recipients
PRODUCTION – PLAY
“London Wall” – Griffin Theatre Company
PRODUCTION – MUSICAL OR REVUE
“Rent” – Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre
“Posh” – Steep Theatre Company
“Direct from Death Row The Scottsboro Boys” – Raven Theatre
DIRECTOR – PLAY
Robin Witt – “London Wall” – Griffin Theatre Company
DIRECTOR – MUSICAL OR REVUE
Scott Weinstein – “Rent” – Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre
ACTOR IN A PRINCIPAL ROLE – PLAY
Julian Parker (Yank) – “The Hairy Ape” – Oracle Theatre
ACTOR IN A PRINCIPAL ROLE – MUSICAL
Quinton Guyton (Mama) – “Lawd the CVS is Burning…A Gospel Musical Stage Play” – MPAACT
ACTRESS IN A PRINCIPAL ROLE – PLAY
Amanda Drinkall (May) – “Last Train to Nibroc” – Haven Theatre
ACTRESS IN A PRINCIPAL ROLE – MUSICAL
Courtney Mack (Veronica) – “Heathers: The Musical” – Kokandy Productions
ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE – PLAY
JP Pierson (Mendy) – “The Lisbon Traviata” – Eclipse Theatre Company
ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE – MUSICAL OR REVUE
Aubrey McGrath (Angel) – “Rent” – Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre
ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE – PLAY
Cecelia Wingate (Celeste) – “Byhalia, Mississippi” – The New Colony and Definition Theatre Company
ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE – MUSICAL OR REVUE
Amanda Horvath (Sara) – “Murder Ballad” – Bailiwick Chicago
Anna Dauzvardis (April, et al.) – “Liberty City” – eta Creative Arts Foundation
Evan Linder – “Byhalia, Mississippi” – The New Colony and Definition Theatre Company
Elizabeth Lovelady – “D.O.A.” – Strawdog Theatre Company
Christina Calvit – “Miss Buncle’s Book” – Lifeline Theatre
Sawyer Smith – “Heathers: The Musical” – Kokandy Productions
ORIGINAL MUSIC IN A PLAY
Danny Rockett – “How to Explain the History of Communism to Mental Patients” – Trap Door Theatre
Jeremy Ramey – “Rent” – Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre
John Wilson – “Byhalia, Mississippi” – The New Colony and Definition Theatre Company
Charles Cooper – “Murder Ballad” – Bailiwick Chicago
John Nasca – “Design for Living” – Pride Films and Plays
Jeffrey Levin – “The Hairy Ape” – Oracle Theatre
Breon Arzell – Step Master – “The Hairy Ape” – Oracle Theatre
The Non-Equity Awards Celebration is a far less formal one, but I did notice several nominee’s who were dressed to the nines (as well as those in shorts and sneakers), so being honored to some is just as important as it should be. The host and hostess were very busy before the show with their “pre-show” festivities and while I think both are talented performers and Brenda Didier a marvelous directory, I think the audience as it was arriving did not truly know what was going on. While “shtick ” is fun, sometimes it can detract from the overall show and one must remember that this is an Awards Show. Yes, they have made a thing about no winners (or for that matter losers, as just being nominated is winning) or losers, and yes, just being nominated is something very special, so shouldn’t the evening be one of festivity and honor? I am hopeful that they will review some of the evening for the future. They may also want to examine other venues for the futures as it seemed to get a bit crowded at The Park West.
Kimberley Senior’s special honor was a treat, from top to bottom as she looked at her history in Chicago. One of her comments truly stood out. Three words- Chicago, Community and Theater should always be thought of as a unit- they go together in perfect unison. A full house of Chicago Theater Community people all agreed. And many young actors, directors and technical people all considered the lessons they have learned from this brilliant technician/educator.