Students, amateurs, professionals—and potent combinations of all three—regularly achieved excellence in rooms large and small this year. The stories they pursued ranged from ghost tales to geopolitics and explored alternative takes on classics—and comic books. Most of all, they listened carefully for so many tales not being told: from down the street, from out of the past and from across the world. And since they did, we all have much to celebrate.
Unless otherwise mentioned, productions in each category are listed in chronological order.
Video veteran Haverkamp and talented youngster Karner figured it out before Herman Cain: In the age of the interwebs, one good Vimeo or YouTube video can do more for you than a seven-figure ad campaign. Their witty, stylish promos for regional companies provide another solution to one of theater's oldest dilemmas: telling—and showing—the whole world about it once they've made the masterpiece.
The undisputed highlights of Nicola Bullock's curated evening of visual, choreographic and performance art was Kegan Dean Rushing's riveting, embodied—and largely silent—transgender performance piece and Jeni Smith's autobiographical solo monologue, whose humor—and unflinching honesty—recalled some of the best work of the late Spalding Gray.
Regional artists Will McInerney, Kane Smego, Mohammad Moussa and Sameer Abdel-khalek were in the historic place at the historic time—Egypt and Tunisia, between mid-June and early August—as the revolutions born of the Arab Spring fully came into their own. In this multi-media work in progress, their documentary footage and equally sharp eyewitness testimony make for a gritty, no-nonsense journalism born of poetry and the spirit. As they do, the oppressed who live so far away draw nearer to us, and speak.
If you want to bring some ghosts around, play them music. Leyton-Brown's suite for small ensemble and theremin and Holton's minimalism added to the chill in two of the year's most atmospheric works.
Robinson's orchestra gave Mel Brooks' comedy a lot of its fizz, and Wright's aggregation (featuring Jackson Cooper, Drew Lile, John Simonetti and Todd Proctor) nimbly shifted musical gears throughout Violet.
But after a decade spent out of the musical theater business, PlayMakers Rep produced two shows in which live music played an integral role. Kate Dobbs Ariail praised Herrick and the Red Clay Ramblers' return to Big River, a show they helped get to Broadway in the first place, before Sorrell and a righteous band (including Ed Butler, Bertron Curtis, Kevin Wilson and Thurman Woods) evoked the gospel, the blues and the triumph of The Parchman Hour.
This award recognizes excellence in a production across multiple areas of design. Marriott's set and Kurtzman's chilling costumes and makeup led a sextet in designing the haunted Noh theater of Stroke/ Book. Speaking of "haunted," Strewwelpeter's design team made a maze of REP's building, populating it with Victorian shadows—and bad, bad children. Another quartet envisioned a life-size Doll's House—but one slowly being overtaken by mold and decay, before Bend and Salvatella de Prada "created a beacon for the new era" in Kate Dobbs Ariail's words, with a hybrid production using video, drawings, newsprint sculpture and live action.
Christina Cass praised Coble's "outstanding transformation" of Paul Green Theatre into a large meandering river, before Tilford created a thought-provoking political art installation for Rachel Corrie. Bernier made the most of the least, turning suitcases into bus seats and a televangelist's pulpit in Violet. But how hard was it for Williams and Dodge to keep a straight face in presenting their designs—Williams for that rather Freudian wallpaper in In the Next Room, Dodge for the sarcophagus-like portal in that Alexandrian library for Virginia Woolf?
Yes, every stitch reinforced and added to the vivid worlds we were allowed to visit: the intricate, period-perfect Victoriana of In the Next Room (plus those hats!); the recombinant Elizabethan steampunk Dream; and the "subtle Brechtian humor" Cass found in Threepenny Opera.
Those sunsets and the hot Louisiana summer that Morrison made for Big River were "specifically gorgeous" and "breathtaking" in Christina Cass' words.
The Paperhand crew created dancing human stick figures with an innovative lighting technology. Corey made macabre, poignant raptor puppets from corporate debt—and papier-mâché—in Enron.
Eight regional playwrights/ adaptors who are very good at what they do—plus a ninth who still remembers the old neighborhood. Even better news: Given the attention independent theaters and writing collectives are giving budding local playwrights, they should be considered the first voices of a theatrical literary community.
It's written in Proverbs: "Where there is no vision, the people perish." The same is clearly true for theater. But artists like McAuliffe (who Adam Sobsey nominated); Storer (championed by Ariail and others); and Brosnahan (Fellerath's nod) all saw performances in actors before they gave them, perceived connections between writers who'd never met or film and visual artists living half a world apart and envisioned worlds that commented on where we've been or where we might be going. (Even if, like Ezekiel, Hughes was in the middle of the air...)
Communities of actors, knitting among them a palpable, and anything but common, world. If you were on stage in these productions, we very much believed you—and believe in you.