Dora Awards 2019: 40th anniversary ceremonies were overshadowed by no-shows

Despite inspiring acceptance speeches for shows like School Girls and Guarded Girls, the fact that the ceremony was held on a Tuesday – when many theatre artists are working – rather than a Monday was a slap in the face


Last night the Toronto theatre, opera and dance communities celebrated the past year’s work at the Dora Mavor Moore Awards, which was itself celebrating 40 years of existence. But the awards were overshadowed by many no-show winners in the theatre categories, a situation that was entirely preventable.

All those no-shows were, unfortunately, the big narrative of the night. That’s too bad, because there were other great stories: Soulpepper swept the general theatre division’s design awards for their productions of The Royale and Orlando, a balm for the company after a tumultuous 2018 that saw its founding artistic director resign under a cloud of sexual misconduct allegations Nightwood Theatre and Obsidian Theatre‘s co-production School Girls: Or, The African Mean Girls Play won outstanding direction and production awards, prompting Obsidian producer Luke Reece to declare to the audience that there were “no more excuses” for overlooking the city’s emerging Black theatrical talent. 

Host Rick Miller, who opened the evening with a glitzy rendition of David Bowie’s Changes, broached the subject in his opening monologue.

“A lot of [theatre] people work on Tuesdays – apparently, not you,” he joked to the crowd, following it up with a more sincere “Thanks for being here, to all of you – even Kelly Nestruck.”

Miller was referring to the Globe & Mail theatre critic, who wrote an op-ed on Friday lambasting TAPA for choosing to move dates rather than venues when the TO Live organization, which controls three civic-owned theatres, bumped the ceremony from its original Monday June 24 date in favour of music legend Diana Ross playing the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts that night.

But Nestruck was simply voicing what many in the community had been saying on social media, and when the first individual winner of the night came up – Augusto Bitter, for his solo show CHICHO – the writer/actor lamented “all the people who can’t be here with us tonight.”

Both organizations should have known what would happen. Human Cargo and Theatre Passe Muraille‘s production of The Runner won outstanding production, new play and direction awards in the independent theatre division for writer Christopher Morris and director Daniel Brooks, but Brooks was absent, as was Morris, who was in a cue-to-cue rehearsal in High Park for Canadian Stage’s outdoor Shakespeare productions.

Soulpepper’s Rose won three awards in the musical theatre division, including best new musical. But Peter Fernandes, who won an outstanding featured role award for his turn in the show was on stage in Brigadoon at the Shaw Festival. 

No-show winners are common every year in the opera division, as opera artists often work internationally this year, for instance, Gerald Finley, who won outstanding performance of an individual for his role in Otello (adding to the Canadian Opera Company’s six other awards), was in the UK performing in Das Schlaue Füchslein with the London Symphony Orchestra. 

But it’s rare for there to be more than one or two no-shows in the theatre categories, and there were nearly a dozen last night – which was exacerbated by the number of people who jumped on stage unexpectedly to deliver speeches on behalf of winners, a common occurrence that seemed to flummox the Dora presenters, and which TAPA should have prepared for in advance.

While TAPA does many things for the theatre community – its HipTix programming, which provides discount tickets for youth, for instance, or their citySPECIAL program, which provides tickets to newcomers and at risk youth – the Doras are what most in the theatre community would consider to be its raison d’être.

And while it has done great work of late, including changing the award categories to be gender neutral, and having an ASL delivery of its land acknowledgement last night, choosing to host its ceremony on a night many recipients could not attend risks the 40-year organization’s relevance.

And awards are very relevant, even if they aren’t televised like the Tonys.

When Nina Lee Aquino spoke in her outstanding direction acceptance speech for School Girls about “holding the door open” for other female directors of colour to the gathered Toronto theatre industry, that was important. When Makambe K. Simamba, a recent arrival to Toronto from Calgary, won outstanding performance and new play awards in the Theatre For Young Audiences division, she asked other theatre creators to meet her for coffee and artistic collaboration talks. And when Charlotte Corbeil-Coleman won the new play award in the general theatre division for her Guarded Girls, she used her allotted 60 seconds to draw parallels between Corrections Canada’s separation of families with the U.S.’s abhorrent treatment of refugee families.

So if TAPA intends to remain in the business of hosting awards ceremonies, and the civic-owned TO Live in the business of providing a venue for them (as they should), their first consideration should be when, and whether, their recipients will be able to attend.

All the glitz and glamour of the ceremony, including the live band fronted by Miller on the Sony Centre’s patio post-ceremony, won’t mean much if the winners can’t be there.

A full list of last night’s winners can be found on TAPA’s website

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