The Top 10 Toronto theatre artists of 2018

From two versatile actor/directors and an ingenious set and costume designer to a wise-beyond-her-years child performer, these artists delivered the drama this year


As usual, coming up with just 10 names was nearly impossible. But these artists, besides being part of at least two shows, demonstrated a commitment and range that has made them a thrilling and essential part of the theatre landscape.

1. COURTNEY CH’NG LANCASTER, actor and director

No theatre artist did as varied and consistent work this year as Lancaster, whose layered characters resonate in theatregoers’ minds long after a show is over. She was an essential part of the moving chorus in Idomeneus played the conflicted/complicit narrator in Innocence Lost (convincing as both a child and adult) got us to bite our nails as a businesswoman caught in a sticky Airbnb situation in Anywhere made a footnote in musical history come vividly alive (complete with charming singing) as an opera composer in I Call Myself Princess and played both Marshall McLuhan’s devoted secretary and a scantily clad cigarette seller with a firm grasp of the philosopher’s oeuvre in The Message. In addition, as co-artistic director of the Howland Company, she directed an ass-kicking and deeply empathetic production of The Wolves.

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2. GREGORY PREST, actor and director

Prest has hitherto been known for his intense dramatic performances in shows like Of Human Bondage and Ghosts. This year, he proved as good at comedy, gleefully devouring and spitting out his rhyming lines as the boorish central character in La Bête and then morphing into a half dozen characters in Bed And Breakfast opposite his real-life partner, Paolo Santalucia. He also added to his impressive director resumé with a powerfully unsettling production of the timely and disturbing Punk Rock.

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Maev Beaty put her own life under glass in Secret Life Of A Mother.

3. MAEV BEATY, actor

While I kicked myself for not travelling to Prince Edward County to see Beaty and Liisa Repo-Martell in Daniel MacIvor’s A Beautiful View (hey, TIFF was on) and missing her play Joni Mitchell in Musical Stage Company’s three-day run of Uncovered, I did get to see her in a trio of unforgettable shows. Beaty’s imperious Russian princess added glamour and fire to Orlando (she got bonus marks for the year’s hottest onstage kiss with Sarah Afful), but it was her two collaborations with friend Hannah Moscovitch that made the year so memorable. Bunny and Secret Life Of A Mother dealt honestly and frankly with taboo topics concerning women, and Beaty fearlessly explored all the oh-so-human contradictions suggested in each work.

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4. BEAU DIXON, actor and musician

Dixon has such a laid-back onstage persona that it’s easy to underestimate his skill. Early in the year, he was part of Hamlet’s rock ’n’ roll ensemble, even jamming with fellow musician Jack Nicholsen at one point. (I would pay to see them do a cabaret duo.) Later on, in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, he added a low-key but deep soulfulness to his piano-playing, well-read Toledo. Most impressive was his Othello in Harlem Duet, playing a philandering academic, a slave looking to escape to freedom and a deeply compromised vaudevillian actor.

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5. GILLIAN GALLOW, designer

Gallow is responsible for some of the most striking images on any stage this year. In Long Day’s Journey Into Night she created a family whose picture-perfect sartorial surface belied their hellish inner turmoil in Orlando, her sumptuous clothes helped communicate the work’s changing eras and mores in Idomeneus, her characters emerged as if from some ash heap and in the opera Hadrian, her costumes had to evoke Roman leaders, tempestuous Gods, peasants and duets of cavorting lovers. But oddly enough, her most memorable design was also the simplest. In The Runner, her sparse set consisted of a long, moving treadmill on which a ZAKA volunteer was stuck as if on an existential catwalk, forever attempting to go forward and getting nowhere.

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Cylla von Tiedemann

Laura Condlln and Evan Buliung broke our hearts in Fun Home.

6. LAURA CONDLLN, actor

Condlln often radiates sympathy and goodwill, even when her characters face big crises. As Fun Home’s anxious and guilt-ridden narrator, she helped guide us through her character’s secretive family history (note: the show, a musical, was Condlln’s singing debut!). In Sisters, her selfless Ann sacrificed her own happiness for that of her younger sibling, with poignant results. And in A Delicate Balance, the actor played against type as an entitled, miserable woman seeking comfort in her parents’ home after fleeing her fourth collapsed marriage.

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7. RACHEL CAIRNS, actor

Cairns has a knowing look and inner strength that communicates to the back of the largest theatre. She first captured my attention this year as a sly Rosencrantz in Hamlet, continued as a loyal friend in Bunny, and then wowed High Park crowds with untraditional (but completely convincing) takes on Juliet and Hermia in Romeo And Juliet and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Later in the year, even among a talented ensemble, she scored dramatic goals with her authoritative team captain in The Wolves.

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Sara Farb added spontaneity and intelligence to The Humans and Fun Home.

8. SARA FARB, actor

Equally adept at musicals and straight plays, Farb has a spontaneity and intelligence that adds a spark to any show. Her Medium Alison in Fun Home nearly stole the show with the infectiously joyous number, Changing My Major, while her Brigid in The Humans was so nuanced you could intuit her relationship with each member of her family with a single glance or line-reading.

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Cassandra Rudolph

Amanda Cordner commands the stage in BODY SO FLUORESCENT at SummerWorks.

9. AMANDA CORDNER, actor and writer

Not many actors could believably play both the Egyptian god Anubis (albeit in human form) and Odysseus’s patient wife Penelope. But Cordner did, stylishly and with total confidence, in Featherweight and The Penelopiad. But her most impressive acting feat was in Body So Fluorescent, which she co-wrote with David di Giovanni, in which she played two young friends whose relationship detonates after one of them appropriates the other’s culture.

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Hannah Levinson and David Storch helped us explore The Nether’s regions. (Photo by Tim Leyes)

10. HANNAH LEVINSON, actor

Surely the youngest artist to ever appear on this list, Levinson consistently demonstrates a wisdom and theatre savvy way beyond her years. In the musicals Fun Home and The Preposterous Predicament Of Polly Peel (Act 1), she brought focus and discipline to precocious girls with lots of questions, often suggesting things her characters were unaware of, while in The Nether she skillfully made us believe she was an idealized Victorian girl with someone else manipulating her avatar.

@glennsumi

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