The Winnipeg Theatre Awards, or the Evies, presented its fifth annual awards ceremony online via YouTube Aug. 30. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the ceremony celebrated a theatre season unlike any other. Many performances were cancelled or postponed over the past year and a half, but the magic of theatre never left. Rather, it changed and persevered, with many theatre companies moving their productions from in-person to digital media outlets.
The Evies — named after Winnipeg actor Evelyne “Evie” Anderson — have been celebrating the arts and recognizing excellence in Winnipeg’s professional theatre community both onstage and behind the scenes since 2017.
The ceremony was carried by a quartet of hosts. Actor Gabriel Daniels opened the show with a “Winnipeg Welcome.” Artistic director of Shakespeare in the Ruins Rodrigo Beilfuss shared a heartfelt anecdote about the resilience of the theatre industry during these unprecedented times. Lara Rae, co-founder of the Winnipeg Comedy Festival, discussed the importance of arts, accessibility and community and the multitalented Laura Lussier performed her hosting duties — a land acknowledgement and the show closer — in both French and English.
This year’s ceremony looked a bit different from last year’s, and it’s not because of the online viewing platform. Due to the limited number of theatrical offerings since the pandemic began, there was only one juried award category — the outstanding digital production award, which went to the Prairie Theatre Exchange’s production of Hannah Moscovitch’s Post-Democracy. The Evies promise to return to their traditional categories in June 2022.
Toward the middle of the almost 75-minute broadcast was a sketch comedy routine, performed by local theatre company Echo Theatre. The sketch, titled Doorbell Shakespeare, was short, sweet and side-splitting, artfully fusing the sophisticated language of William Shakespeare with informal commentary on the worldwide pandemic situation.
The ceremony also featured an “In Memoriam” presentation to honour those the community has lost over the past season. One of these individuals was Chris Johnson, a former English, theatre, film and media professor at the University of Manitoba, who passed away suddenly in June. For his profound contribution to drama education — including the founding of the U of M’s Black Hole Theatre Company, now the John J. Conklin Theatre at the Gail Asper Performing Arts Hall — Johnson was the recipient of the honorary theatre educator award at the 2018 Evie Awards and went on to sit on the board of the awards as co-chair.
Despite a challenging time for the performing arts, theatre artists in Winnipeg and all over the world have been resiliently keeping the flame alive against all odds and they are ready to return with abandon, live and in person, when theatres reopen again.