1. MAEV BEATY actor
Beaty goes to the front of the line for outstanding work in six productions, demonstrating her chameleon-like versatility as a team or solo player. She began the year as part of The Penelopiad troupe, sharing in an ensemble Dora, and then contributed to the few memorable moments in The Happy Woman, which won her another Dora nomination. Beaty proved a deliciously canny adversary for the Canadian prime minister in Proud and helped ignite the verbal and emotional fireworks of Terminus. As if she didn't have enough to do, she workshopped Civility and Antigone Dead People. Is there any role this woman can't play?
2. NICOLE UNDERHAY actor
Underhay's one of those gifted actors equally skilled in comedy and drama; she brings energy and compassion to any show she's in. In the winter she moved us in The Small Room At The Top Of The Stairs as a newlywed who couldn't resist going into the room her husband warned her not to enter. She later returned to her frequent summer home, the Shaw Festival, where her quick wit and equally quick delivery as newswoman Hildy Johnson grounded His Girl Friday, and her charm and magnetic stage presence as the title character in The Millionairess seduced every character along with the audience.
3. MITCHELL CUSHMAN director
No director in 2012 earned such applause in such a short period of time. A year ago only a handful of viewers had a chance to see Cushman's SummerWorks production of Mr. Marmalade for Outside the March, where he's co-artistic director. Now he's rightly hailed for helming a trio of outside-the-box productions, including a revival of Mr. Marmalade (again performed in a kindergarten room), an updated version of The Agony And The Ecstasy Of Steve Jobs set in boardrooms and garages around Toronto and two stagings of the language- and emotion-rich Terminus, both of which set the audience onstage alongside the actors.
4. NEEMA BICKERSTETH actor/singer
Bickersteth, who's been on my radar for years, demonstrated her dramatic as well as her musical skills, beginning with the touching, anthropomorphized Moon and other roles in Caroline, Or Change. She added to her roster of fine performances playing a censorious Salem pastor in Obeah Opera and a concerned, ghostly mother in Oil And Water. Bickersteth finished the year as one of the three Wise Men and other figures in The Story, a version of the Christmas tale that led audiences around the Brick Works, her radiant presence and beautiful soprano voice filling the piece with warmth.
5. MONICA DOTTOR choreographer/actor
One of the best elements in The Penelopiad was its movement, created by ensemble member Dottor, which copped her a Dora nomination. Her choreography also contributed to the magic of Crash. A performer as well as a choreographer, Dottor always brings a fresh, immediate quality to her stage work, demonstrated in the SummerWorks production of Petrichor, in which she played a shy Mennonite migrant farm worker who falls for the boss's son. Dottor was pretty busy during SummerWorks, providing movement not only for Petrichor but also for France (Or, The Niqab) and Marine Life.
6. KEN MacKENZIE designer/performer
After he graduated from the Soulpepper Academy, the company wisely kept MacKenzie around both as actor and designer. This season he created the meticulously detailed corner store in Kim's Convenience and contributed to the designs for Home, Death Of A Salesman, Dirt and Alligator Pie. In the last, an energetic adaptation of Dennis Lee's poems for children, he also performed as one of the playful cast and showed his talent as a musician. In his spare time, MacKenzie designed the set for The Double.
7. WEYNI MENGESHA director
Mengesha has appeared on this list before, but it's time for a return because of the quality of the two shows she helmed this year: Kim's Convenience and The Small Room At The Top Of The Stairs. The former was a groundbreaking work for Soulpepper, and Mengesha brought out its heart as well as its comedy. Small Room was more nuanced, and she caught its chills, mystery and fairy tale quality.
8. CHRISTINE HORNE actor
You know that Horne will always bring dramatic intensity to her work. In Iceland, she played a troubled prostitute affected by the financial crisis; she was riveting even when she had no lines. She later jacked up the theatrical temperature in Between The Sheets, playing opposite Susan Coyne in a cat-and-mouse game involving a young teacher and an accusing parent. Now I'd love to see her show off her range by tackling something lighter: a Noel Coward comedy, maybe, where she could bring a light touch to the writer's wit?
9. TIM WALKER actor
Ever since I saw Walker in his last year at George Brown Theatre, he's impressed me with his dramatic range, heartfelt insight into character and strong stage presence. He spent much of his time after graduation working out of town, but this year he brought his talents to a trio of local roles: a man who confesses to his wife that he's having an affair with a barnyard animal in The Goat Or, Who Is Sylvia?, a gleeful comic turn as the central character's befuddled friend in Boeing Boeing! and a guilt-ridden man who hires another guy as a "conscience cleaner," with disastrous results, in Help Yourself.
10. AMBUR BRAID opera singer
Anyone who thinks opera singers are all voice and no drama hasn't seen Braid's work with the Canadian Opera Company. A member of the COC's Ensemble Studio, she sang in The Tales Of Hoffmann and wowed viewers in the Ensemble's performance of Handel's Semele, giving a tragic turn to the title character; she depicted Semele's progressive madness in a coloratura aria usually sung for its sweetness. In the fall she won hearts onstage and in the audience as the pert maid, Adele, in Die Fledermaus.