SummerWorks 2016 Wrap-up: what worked (and what didn’t)

Lessons In Temperament, Bleeders and Nova Bhattacharya take top prizes, and we vent about how the Queen West performance fest could be improved


SummerWorks 2016 will go down as one of the hottest in history. And that’s not just because it took place during a heat wave. The performance festival was one of the boldest and most eclectic yet, with lots of imaginative shows, diverse programming (including the first ever Chinese-language production) and great ways to expand our idea of what art can be.

The winner of the SummerWorks Award for Production, which includes a trip back to the festival next year, was James Smith’s Lessons In Temperament, a deeply personal and unique look at trying to create harmony from family dysfunction, all performed while tuning a piano.

The NOW Magazine Audience Choice Award, consisting of $2,000 of free advertising in the paper, was d’bi young anitafrika’s Bleeders, the powerful conclusion of her Orisha ­Trilogy.

Other honoured artists include choreographer Nova Bhattacharya, who won the award for best direction for Broken Lines, and Maddie Bautista, winner of the Spotlight Award for performance for My Nightmares Wear White.

The Emerging Artist Award went to Drawing with Knives experimental shadow puppetry co. for IN UTERO OUT, and the new performance text award went to Gabriel Dharmoo for Imaginary Anthropologies. The Vanguard Award for risk and innovation went to Wants&Needs danse’s Fame Prayer/EATING. And the inaugural winner of the live art award went to lo bil for the root of the river flows darker than clouds.

A couple of observations: the balloting system for the Audience Choice Award needs tweaking. At past fests you could use your ticket to vote for your favourite show any time during the fest, even at another show. The home ticketing system makes that impossible, and the replacement token stub to vote with is fussy and inconvenient.

The big program books weren’t available until a couple of days before the festival began. Annoying. There was no show-search option on the SummerWorks website. And while the increased dance program was exciting, there were often only two shows of a work.

That said, here’s our annual list of what we loved.

OUTSTANDING NEW PLAYS

Daughter Extremophiles Lessons In Temperament Mr. Shi And His Lover

OUTSTANDING PRODUCTIONS

Daughter Extremophiles IN UTERO OUT ­Lessons In Temperament Mr. Shi And His Lover

OUTSTANDING DIRECTION

Carly Chamberlain (Plucked) Tam Chi Chun (Mr. Shi And His Lover) Mitchell Cushman (Lessons In Temperament) Ann-Marie Kerr (Daughter) Michael Reinhart (4½ (ig)noble truths)

OUTSTANDING PERFORMANCES

Georgina Beaty (Extremophiles) Lisa Karen Cox and Kimwun Perehinec (Don’t Talk To Me Like I’m Your Wife) Adam Lazarus (Daughter) Thomas McKechnie (4½ (ig)noble truths)

OUTSTANDING ENSEMBLES

Mr. Shi And His Lover Osia This Is How We Got Here Two Indians

OUTSTANDING DESIGN

Drawing With Knives (IN UTERO OUT) Andy Moro (scenography, Two Indians) Patrick Lavender and Caterwaul Theatre (Extremophiles) Eric Rose and Matthew Waddell (sound design, Tomorrow’s Child)

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