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2017 JEFF AWARDS - A LETTER FROM RON KEATON

 “Appreciation is a wonderful thing. It makes what is excellent in others belong to us as well.” – Voltaire

Our Conversation this week comes in the form of a letter from Ron Keaton. Ron agreed to step in when business called me out of town. It was a chance for Ron to give his unique point of view on a big night of recognition for Chicago's professional theatre community and share comments from award recipients in many of the categories. Congratulations to all of the truly exceptional performers and productions honored at the 2017 Equity Jeff Awards ceremony on November 6th at Drury Lane. And, thanks for your memories of the night, Ron!  Ed  

“To get the full value of joy, you must have someone to divide it with. – Mark Twain

Hello Ed,

As you know, when you asked me to fill in and report on the 2017 Jeff Awards while you were out of town, I said “Sure. Happy to do it.”  I attended in a totally different role. For the moment, I was a unique part of the Fourth Estate. An observer who helps to sum up this particular occasion for those who peek in from the outside, while, at the same time, providing a bit of insider’s perspective. 

Suddenly I was struck with a bit of fear. Me?  ME?  Who in the world would care what I had to say?  I went straight to that place that worries about what others had to say about what I had to say.  It took a little time to remind myself that it was never about me, but about others in the room, and what they share – what we all share – in the theatre.

The night was filled with terrific performances from the nominated shows. I began to realize that all the talent, all the work, the commitment, ALL of it comes from a place of cathartic love and joy. This year’s Jeff Awards had its share of emotional release and connection, leaving folks pretty high.

So, Ed, in addition to listing the recipients, allow me to highlight, in as much of their own words as possible, what I mean.

Here we go:

2017 EQUITY JEFF AWARDS     PHOTO GALLERY|BILL RICHERT

I truly enjoyed Anish Jethmalani and Mierka Gierken who were both constant, charming hosts throughout the entire evening.

NEW PLAY
Michael Cristofer - “Man in the Ring” – Court Theatre
Lauren Gunderson/Margot Melcon – “Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley” – Northlight Theatre
Antoinette Nwandu - “Pass Over” – Steppenwolf Theatre

ORIGINAL MUSIC
Orbert Davis – “Paradise Blue” – Timeline Theatre Company
“I was hoping someone else would speak first, so I’d know what to do! ... I’m totally out of my league here. … This is such an incredible experience.”

ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE – PLAY
Marton Csokas – “Uncle Vanya” – Goodman Theatre

ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE – PLAY
Kymberly Mellen
– “The Columnist” – American Blues Theater
“First person I need to thank is my husband; we’ll be married 22 years this month! ... There is no way I could do anything I do without that man!”

ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE – MUSICAL
E. Faye Butler – “Chicago The Musical” – Drury Lane Productions

ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE – MUSICAL
Jonathan Butler Duplessis – “Parade” – Writers Theatre

Oh, Ed…I have to stop here and tell you, it was like a churning machine of infectious joy. Jonathan couldn’t stop, and people didn’t want him to stop. 

He kept jumping up and down: 

“NONE of this was supposed to happen! None of it! ... I wanna thank so many people right now … I wanna thank my beautiful girlfriend right over there!  I wanna thank my grandmother, who we had to take two weeks to get her here tonight!”

And he certainly thanked all the right people profusely.  But then, and I’ve never seen anything like it, I had a special vantage point, sitting right behind Kathleen, his girlfriend, and his grandmother.  When Jonathan returned to his seat, he gave the award to his grandmother.  He got down on his knees.  He laid his head down in her lap.  And cried.  Probably five minutes, the young man cried with joy, his grandmother’s arms all around him.  I was almost embarrassed at witnessing this family exchange. But what a privilege I had, watching this utter, absolute joy.

SCENIC DESIGN – LARGE/MIDSIZE
Jeffrey D. Kmiec
– “Disney’s The Little Mermaid” – Paramount Theatre (LARGE)
Joe Schermoly – “Naperville” – Theater Wit (MIDSIZE)

LIGHTING DESIGN – LARGE/MIDSIZE
Nick Belley/Jesse Klug
– “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” – Paramount Theatre (LARGE)
Cat Davis – “The River Bride” – Halcyon Theatre (MIDSIZE)

Steve Scott.jpg

COSTUME DESIGN – LARGE/MIDSIZE
Theresa Ham
– “Disney’s The Little Mermaid” – Paramount Theatre (LARGE)
Kristy Leigh Hall – “Pygmalion” – Remy Bumppo Theatre Company (MIDSIZE)

SOUND DESIGN – LARGE/MIDSIZE
Andre Pluess – “Man in the Ring” – Court Theatre (LARGE)

Grover Hollway – “The Great and Terrible Wizard of Oz” – The House Theatre Of Chicago (MIDSIZE)

PROJECTIONS DESIGN
Mike Tutaj – “Objects in the Mirror” – Goodman Theatre

PUPPET DESIGN
Jesse Mooney-Bullock – “Disney’s The Little Mermaid” – Paramount Theatre

SPECIAL JEFF AWARD – Steve Scott
A Special Jeff Award was presented on the occasion of Scott’s retirement after 37 years at the Goodman Theatre, a person we need among us at all times and one I hope to be when I grow up – a teacher who never stops learning. The award was presented by David Liesse, the Jeff Committee chair, and by Roche Schulfer and Robert Falls of the Goodman Theatre. 

Steve Scott: “We do work that is difficult and truthful and honest – and for the respect that we all deserve as artists and as citizens.” …“We can never assume viciousness in our world today, when the problem is actually ignorance.” … “We must never forget that, though our rehearsal rooms are safe spaces, our theatres by their very definition, are not … and that the most potent weapon we have in dealing with those who don’t agree with us is empathy – our ability to understand what ties us together as human beings.”

SOLO PERFORMANCE
Linda Reiter – “Rose” – The Greenhouse Theater Center in association with Forum Productions
After a joyful “whoop!” and following Steve Scott, who directed this production: “Well, I was trying to get this under a minute, but, apparently, we have a really long time now. Yay!”

ENSEMBLE (Sponsored by Actor’s Equity Association)
“East Texas Hot Links” – Writers Theatre

CHOREOGRAPHY
Matthew Crowle
– “Crazy for You” – Drury Lane Productions
“My Mom and Dad are here tonight … You never missed a dance recital. And you never missed an opening night.  And the older I get, the more I realize how rare that is … and how profoundly fortunate I am.”

MUSIC DIRECTION
Tom Vendafreddo – “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” – Paramount Theatre

DIRECTOR PLAY (The Michael Maggio Award)
Ron OJ Parson – “Blues for an Alabama Sky” – Court Theatre

DIRECTOR – MUSICAL OR REVUE
Jim Corti – “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” – Paramount Theatre

ACTOR IN A REVUE
Austin Cook – “Marry Me A Little” – Porchlight Music Theatre

ACTRESS IN A REVUE
Michelle Lauto
– “Spamilton” – Royal George Theatre
“So many times, in theatre, women are resigned to playing shallow archetypes and don’t get to show off their most bold, dynamic, fun selves. I played thirteen characters in 80 minutes, and I spent most of that time making ugly faces and doing funny voices; there was no love story and I never did a ballad about whether I was missing something. It was just bliss!”

ACTRESS IN A PRINCIPAL ROLE – PLAY
Angela Ingersoll
– “End of the Rainbow” – Porchlight Music Theatre
“I made a wish on a Christmas star two years ago; that was the little voice in my head that I couldn’t stop hearing.  I believe that is God’s will and believe in that, because then the dreams you dream really do come true!”

ACTOR IN A PRINCIPAL ROLE – PLAY
Alex Weisman
– “Hand to God” – Victory Gardens Theater
“…this play is about an absent father and a silent mother, and I have a very present father and a very loud mother! ... and the greatest thrill of my life is getting to take you to my Broadway debut!”

ACTOR IN A PRINCIPAL ROLE – MUSICAL
Paul Jordan-Jansen
– “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” – Paramount Theatre*

ACTRESS IN A PRINCIPAL ROLE – MUSICALKathy Voytko – “The Bridges of Madison County” – Marriott Theatre
“Wow! ... Thank you, Jeff Committee … I got my Equity card here in Chicago in 1996, and for me, Chicago is home. Alex Weisman, Broadway is great, but Chicago is home!”

PRODUCTION – REVUE
“Smokey Joe’s Café” – Drury Lane Productions
Artistic Director William Osetek: “…most especially we want to thank Marcia Milgrom Dodge (the director of the production) … Marcia took a review and created character and relationship and story without adding a word of dialogue or changing anything … I know my work will be forever better by having worked with Marcia.”

PRODUCTION – MUSICAL (LARGE) – The Dr. Harlan Haimes Award
“Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” (Large) – Paramount Theatre
Artistic Director Jim Corti: “Lord knows our world is going through hell right now. If only we could show more love out there, like the love in this room.”

PRODUCTION – MUSICAL (MIDSIZE)
“The Scottsboro Boys” (Midsize) – Porchlight Music Theatre

Assistant Director Wardell Julius Clark: “I’m standing here on behalf of Samuel G. Roberson, Jr. (the 34 year-old director of the production who passed away this past May after a 25-year battle with leukemia)…This was a labor of love from Sam; he was insistent on being a social justice activist and telling our stories our way, unapologetically.”

PRODUCTION – PLAY (LARGE/MIDSIZE)
“Blues for an Alabama Sky” – Court Theatre (LARGE)

Artistic Director Charles Newell: “…Ron OJ Parson helped us change the way we look at classics. It changed our audience…and it garnered your respect.  Thank you all!”

“Born Yesterday” – Remy Bumppo Theatre Company (MIDSIZE)
Artistic Director Nick Sandys: “We chose this play in 2015, because we thought it might have relevance in November 2016 … it had a HUGE amount of relevance!”

RONALD KEATON won a 2015 Jeff Award for CHURCHILL in the Solo Performance category.  He will be appearing in the Mercury Theatre production of THE CHRISTMAS SCHOONER November 24-December 31. More at: www.solochicagotheatre.com

RONALD KEATON won a 2015 Jeff Award for CHURCHILL in the Solo Performance category.  He will be appearing in the Mercury Theatre production of THE CHRISTMAS SCHOONER November 24-December 31. More at: www.solochicagotheatre.com

Ed, I wonder often if people really understand how the arts affect their lives.  When you’re smack in the middle of it, it becomes more than a job.  It’s a calling, one that addresses every aspect of life right down to that first cup of coffee in the morning.  I have tried to share a bit of that here with you and with my fellow artists.  I can’t remember who said it, but the saying goes:

 “The truly committed artist goes to where the work is, where the people are … and simply goes to work.”

Cheers!
Ron

Comments have been edited for length and clarity. Images courtesy of Jeff Awards/Bill Richert Photography.

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For more information about the Jeff Awards, including a complete list of nominees and recipients, visit the website at: JEFF AWARDS

You can listen to CONVERSATIONS with Steve ScottAngela Ingersoll, Matt Crowle, E. Faye Butler and more in our Archive at Conversations with Ed Tracy. Check out PicksinSix.

DE USURIS

PICKSINSIX: HARD TIMES now playing at Lookingglass Theatre

PICKSINSIX: HARD TIMES now playing at Lookingglass Theatre

PICKSINSIX: Porchlight's BILLY ELLIOT the Musical now playing at their new home, the Ruth Page Center for the Arts

PICKSINSIX: Porchlight's BILLY ELLIOT the Musical now playing at their new home, the Ruth Page Center for the Arts

Music everywhere this fall with Steve Biossat's Sway Chicago on Friday and the Flat Cats on Saturday at the Drake and a full slate at Davenport's including David Edelfelt, Russ Goeltenbodt and the always entertaining Nitz & Howe Experience this weekend. Evan Tyrone Martin at Paramount  and Joan Curto's Ella & Lena - The Ladies and Their Music at the Auditorium Theatre, are just around the corner. There is always a power-packed lineup at Winter's Jazz Club and in the weeks ahead you can hear lePercolateur, Pharez Whitted Quintet, the Paul Marinaro Trio, Rose Colella and Elaine Dame.

The cast of Firebrand Theatre’s Chicago premiere of LIZZIE (top, l to r) Leah Davis as Bridget, Liz Chidester as Lizzie, Camille Robinson as Emma and Jacquelyne Jones as Alice with the “late night” cast (bottom, l to r) Amanda Horvath as Bridget, Kyrie Anderson as Lizzie, Becca Brown as Emma and Elle Walker as Alice.

The cast of Firebrand Theatre’s Chicago premiere of LIZZIE (top, l to r) Leah Davis as Bridget, Liz Chidester as Lizzie, Camille Robinson as Emma and Jacquelyne Jones as Alice with the “late night” cast (bottom, l to r) Amanda Horvath as Bridget, Kyrie Anderson as Lizzie, Becca Brown as Emma and Elle Walker as Alice.

Chicago theater producer/director Steve Scott will be honored at the 49th Annual Equity Jeff Awards ceremony on November 6th at Drury Lane. Our FTA (From the Archive) conversation is featured this week, recorded in November 2016 as the Goodman Theatre prepares for the annual production of A Christmas Carol.  BLOG   PODCAST 

Chicago theater producer/director Steve Scott will be honored at the 49th Annual Equity Jeff Awards ceremony on November 6th at Drury Lane. Our FTA (From the Archive) conversation is featured this week, recorded in November 2016 as the Goodman Theatre prepares for the annual production of A Christmas Carol.  BLOG   PODCAST 

HARD TIMES at Lookingglass and Porchlight's Billy Elliot at The Ruth Page Center are our PICKSINSIX this week.  FUN HOME has been extended at Victory Gardens, A Year with Frog and Toad has been extended at Chicago Children's Theater, Becky Shaw is extended at Windy City Playhouse and Alias Grace at Rivendell plays through November 4th. The run of The Heavens are Hung in Black at Shattered Globe is almost sold out this weekend ... you can still see Goodman's A View from the Bridge and Barbara Gaines all-woman production of The Taming of the Shrew at Chicago Shakespeare. Petterino's Monday Night Live with co-hosts Denise McGowan Tracy and Beckie Menzie continue the celebration at the popular spot at the corner of Dearborn and Randolph.  

The City of Chicago proclaimed October 18th Ashley Wheater Day in honor of 10 years at The Joffrey Ballet and the 2017-18 season opening of Giselle now playing at the Auditorium Theatre. 2017 Giselle Program

RESERVE NOW: Firebrand Theatre's debut production of LIZZIE at The Den Theatre opening November 11th.

Check out our PicksInSix this week ... Like us on Facebook, Follow on Twitter and subscribe to our podcasts on iTunes, Libsyn and Stitcher. Cheers!

FUN HOME cast members were on hand this week to celebrate the 10th Anniversary of Petterino's Monday Night Live (l-r) Denise McGowan Tracy, Hannah Starr, Danni Smith, Beckie Menzie. FUN HOME is extended through November 12th at Victory Gardens.

FUN HOME cast members were on hand this week to celebrate the 10th Anniversary of Petterino's Monday Night Live (l-r) Denise McGowan Tracy, Hannah Starr, Danni Smith, Beckie Menzie. FUN HOME is extended through November 12th at Victory Gardens.

ASHLEY WHEATER: DREAMING BIG AT JOFFREY BALLET

The excitement you feel these days in Joffrey Tower is kinetic energy. It has been steadily pulsing for ten years, since the company moved into their new home, under the artistic direction of Ashley Wheater, who took over the role held only by Robert Joffrey and co-founder Gerald Arpino before him. If that was a pivotal moment in the evolving story of the Joffrey Ballet – a seismic shift of sorts that rumbled across the performing arts world - then the announcement a few weeks ago that the Joffrey Ballet was forming a partnership with Lyric Opera was a bolt of lightning.

Back in 2007, there was a sense things were about to change. Growth and expansion for the performing arts is difficult even in good times, and the economic picture everywhere was bleak.  

None of that seemed to deter or dissuade Wheater from enthusiastically pressing forward, engaging and inspiring many of the world’s most innovative choreographers, writers and directors to create partnerships with the Joffrey. With the establishment of the Joffrey Academy of Dance, a new generation of dancers have begun to emerge. As the administrative operations stabilized and sponsorship expanded under the leadership of Executive Director Greg Cameron, productions like the ten-year development process of last season’s The Nutcracker and scores of other new works are now firmly in the pipeline. And then comes the collaboration with Lyric Opera and the announcement of a new creative partnership for the 2020 season.

On October 9th, as Ashley Wheater was returning from a weekend with the Cleveland Symphony, preparing for the PBS filming of Orphée et Eurydice and the opening production of Giselle at the Auditorium Theater next week, he reflected on a professional career elevated by Joffrey, Arpino, Rudolph Nureyev, John Field and Helgi Tomasson, to name a few. Along the way, we discussed his 1996 career-ending injury, surgery and the aggressive physical therapy that followed and has allowed him to continue to produce some of the most innovative new works of our time.  PODCAST

Groundbreaking partnership with Lyric Opera … “Right now we are in performances with the Lyric Opera’s Orphée et Eurydice. It has been choreographed, directed, scenically designed, costume designed and lighting designed by one man - John Neumeier.  It is our first collaboration with the Lyric Opera. Going by the performances that we have done so far, it has been a fantastic success. Everyone at the Lyric has made us feel so at home there. We are proud of what we have done and we are very, very excited about 2020 when we will become the resident company at the Lyric Opera House.”

Advantages of the partnership … “the stage and the backstage facilities, the technical capability within theatre. ... It has such an advanced hanging rig for scenery. It has amazing lighting capabilities.  For us to be in one house together will be just fantastic for the Joffrey … there are productions that I have wanted to bring to Chicago, At the Lyric Opera House, we can dream big.”

Giselle Returns … “Giselle was the first ballet presented when I became artistic director. And, coming back to it ten years later - which is actually a long time for a ballet company to present such an iconic work - I am thrilled to present a version which has been staged and coached by Lola de Ávila. For us, it is a production that has integrity, the tradition of Giselle, but it has a freshness about how we want to dance today. … to have someone who has worked on Giselle for many, many years, to give the new generation of dancers at the Joffrey Ballet the opportunity to understand the work, to get the maximum out of a work … it has been a fantastic rehearsal and development process.”

Ten years of accomplishments and the ongoing mission … “First and foremost, I am most proud of the company. Everyone has worked incredibly hard. They all came along on the journey. They have grown as a company, matured as a company, both in their thinking and their dancing.  Administratively, the Joffrey has never been in such a great place. We have stability here … a beautiful building.  Our Academy has grown. Our community engagement programs have grown and have become more important and reached deeper into the community … and our audiences have grown. And, speaking for our fantastic Executive Director Greg Cameron, our job is to make sure that we are stewards for this beautiful art form and this really important American company.”

The Joffrey Ballet_The Nutcracker_Photo by Cheryl Mann_cropped.jpg

On The Nutcracker set during the 1893 Columbian Exposition“after opening last year and telling a different story of an iconic classical ballet, we engaged children, parents and grandparents in a different way of thinking about The Nutcracker. It is a story about family. It is about love. These are riches that you cannot pay for with money. Something that we hold within us. More and more we have to embrace our humanity and look out for each other. The Nutcracker tells a beautiful story that way. It is a huge show. It is a Broadway show with fantastic choreography by Christopher Wheeldon. Chris also directed. It embraces dance and theater, an incredible score by Tchaikovsky … a magical journey not about gifts. It is about us.  America is a country made up of immigrants. We have all come from somewhere. Many immigrants came to Chicago to build the world’s fair. Making our Nutcracker about immigrants and those hardworking people seems to me to tell a story that is incredibly relevant for today and will remain relevant for decades.”

Entering the Royal Ballet School at ten years old … when I auditioned for the Royal Ballet School, because of where my birthday falls in the year, I was too young and had to wait a year. What it allowed me to do was to push myself as a very young dancer. I had a fantastic teacher, Mary Hockney, and she really gave me the best of herself in every way. My parents were incredibly supportive. Waiting a year was not a bad thing. … I would not have gone to the ballet school if I had not had the support of my local council.  My parents were not financially in a position to pay for me to go to a very expensive boarding school for five years to pursue a dream of becoming a dancer. So, I am forever grateful to the people who gave me that opportunity. It is so important to me that we look after our kids today and tomorrow to make sure they have opportunities that people like myself were given.”

Recognizing talent … “Every child that comes to our Academy, or comes to our community programs that may want to be a professional dancer, they already have a drive, a passion. But, being able to show them where that discipline and passion can take them is really important. In our company today, over a quarter of our dancers are from the Academy. The Academy has been going for eight years, a very impactful amount of time for the amount of talent that has come into the company. People see that, yes, coming to the Academy is a step to going into the company. For people coming to the Academy and maybe don’t want to be a professional dancer, we have other programs that they can stay involved in,  there are so many positions in the arts that they can fulfill, so having a dance background and that discipline and comradery of working together are life skills that will put anybody on the right track.”

Comments have been edited for length and clarity. Images courtesy of Joffrey Ballet & The Silverman Group, Inc. 

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For more information visit: Orphée et Eurydice at Lyric Opera

The 2017-18 Joffrey Ballet season opens with Giselle Wednesday, October 18th for 10 performances through October 28th at the Auditorium Theater of Roosevelt University, 50 East Congress Parkway. For the full schedule or to order tickets, call 312.386.8905 or visit Joffrey.org.

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