A robot invasion was just one of the surprises at the 38th annual Joseph Jefferson Awards for Non-Equity Theater, handed out Monday night (June 6) at their usual venue, Park West. Typically raucous and generally joyful, the evening honored many of the usual suspects—powerhouse troupes which have won many previous Jeffs—as well as anointing a few lesser-knowns.
The top Jeffs for Production-Play and Production-Musical went to familiar names, respectively Redtwist Theatre for Man from Nebraska and The Hypocrites for Cabaret. Chuck Spencer took home the Jeff for Actor in a Principal Role—Play for his work in Man from Nebraska while Cabaret won four additional Jeffs for various artists, among them Matt Hawkins as Director-Musical and Jessie Fisher for Actress in a Principal Role-Musical for her cross-gender portrayal of the Emcee.
Among the other perennial winners were Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre, Lifeline Theatre and Bohemian Theatre Company. Indeed, the five Off-Loop troupes identified so far in this story walked off with 19 of the 28 Jeffs awarded Monday night.
If there was an unexpected big winner it was, collectively, the Steppenwolf Theatre Company’s Garage Rep just this spring, in which the Wolfies presented three lesser-known non-Equity troupes in a rotating repertory of highly unique productions. Two of them walked out of the Park West with Jeff plaques. For its Garage Rep world premiere, The Three Faces of Dr. Crippen, the Strange Tree Group won the Director-Play Jeff Award for Jimmy McDermott and the New Work award for playwright (and Strange Tree artistic director) Emily Schwartz.
In a completely separate win, Strange Tree Group also took home the highly-coveted Jeff Award for Ensemble for its production of Shakespeare’s King Phycus, produced much earlier in the season at Building Stage.
And so we come to those robots. One of the Steppenwolf Garage Rep productions was Heddatron, a spectacular production by Sideshow Theatre Company of a curious play in which robots meet Henrik Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler. The production featured seven ingenious robots ranging from toaster-size to larger-than-life. The designers of these wondrous contraptions won a Jeff Award for Artistic Specialization, while several of the robots themselves delivered Jeff Awards to recipients in two categories. The team of robot artists included Glen Aduikas, Rick Buesing, Mike Fletcher, Salvador Garcia, Stuart Hecht, David Hyman, Terry Jackson, Don Kerste, Bruce Phillips, Al Schilling, Lisi Stoessel, and Eddy Wright. Alas, we do not know the names of the robots, although we gave one of them our phone number. It hasn’t called … so far.
One noticeable void this year was that no Special Honors Jeffs were awarded. Typically, one or two Special Honors are given to individuals who have made substantial contributions to the theater community over an extended period of time, perhaps a teacher, a producer or—gasp!—even a theater critic on occasion. It seems to us that Chicago’s theater industry has no shortage of worthy possible recipients, and if the Jeff folks couldn’t find one this year, they must not have been trying very hard.
The 50-member Joseph Jefferson Awards Committee was founded in 1968 to honor excellence in Chicago-area professional theater. Each fall, the Committee honors productions of the previous 12 months staged by theaters working under contracts with Actors Equity Association, the union of professional actors and stage manager. Since 1973, the Jeff Committee also has presented annual springtime honors to non-union theaters. For this year’s non-Equity Jeffs, the Committee members judged 146 productions by 62 producing organizations. The 2011 Equity Jeff Awards will be presented November 7 at Drury Lane Oakbrook Theatre in Oakbrook Terrace. The public is invited to the black tie optional awards show.