Wednesday, October 22, 2014
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Two new awards celebrate Twin Cities theater, dance

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The Ivey Awards, celebrating the best in Twin Cities theater, will be handed out Monday night at the Historic State Theater in Minneapolis. (Image courtesy of George Byron Griffiths Photography)
This fall, two important components of the Twin Cities art world will be rolling out the red carpet to celebrate their achievements. Both the theater scene, and for the first time the dance scene, will be holding extravagant awards events within two weeks of each other.

Minneapolis, Minn. — Compared to most theater communities around the country, the Twin Cities theater scene is overflowing with activity. Even as a casual theatergoer, Scott Mayer was aware of this. He therefore found it odd that the members of such a vibrant theater scene had no event to honor their own.

"We talk about it all the time, that we have more theater seats per capita than any other city except New York, but we really hadn't done anything to celebrate that fact," Mayer says. "Most American cities do have some kind of event that celebrates theater on an annual basis, and I thought it was really strange that we didn't."

Mayer is project director of the first annual Ameriprise Financial Ivey Awards, saluting Twin Cities theater. The Iveys are named after a turn-of-the-century hangout for local actors. They're are being handed out Monday night at the Historic State Theater in Minneapolis. Only professional theaters are eligible for the awards.

Mayer says the event is designed to be as celebratory and non-competitive as possible. There are no categories or nominees. Awards recipients will be determined not by a panel of theater critics and writers, but by theater goers.

One hundred volunteer evaluators went to nearly 200 productions by 58 theater companies of every variety and size. They critiqued the performances using a standardized form.

"What it's about is having the public determine what they believe should be highlighted or called out at the end of a year of some great theater," Mayer says.

Evaluator Timi Griffin took in 46 shows this past year. What surprised Griffin was how much she enjoyed the work of smaller, less established theater groups in town.

"I just always thought of little companies as like a little community theater, and it's just going to be hokey or some little high school play or something," says Griffin. "It was far from that, and I would say on par with what we're getting out of the larger theaters."

Griffin will be presenting an award at the Iveys, which will also feature enterainment supplied by local performers.

Meanwhile, the Twin Cities dance scene is gearing up for the Sage Awards, happening Oct. 5 at the Southern Theater. The Sage Awards are named after Sage Cowles, a decades-long benefactor of dance across the country.

They're spearheaded by Minneapolis choreographer Stuart Pimsler, a transplant from New York who brought his company here five years ago.

Pimsler wants the Sages to bring recognition to a dance scene he thinks is brimming with talent and creativity. He also wants to raise the scene's visibility, locally and nationally.

"My hope is that this will pop up on the national radar as, the community has this celebration and look at all the work that's there, and who's this person and who's that person, and perhaps bring other eyes from outside of this community to see it," he says.

Pimsler says the Sage Awards are an artist-driven event. Winners will be chosen in five categories by a panel of 11 representatives from the dance community.

Linda Andrews, artistic director of Zenon Dance Company, says she's really excited about the Sages and thinks it's something the dance community has needed for a long time. Andrews has only a slight reservation, about the judging process.

"It could, I guess in the worst case scenario, could be just different people patting each other on the back, you know because they're friends, that type of thing," Andrews says. "Or is it really going to be based on artistic merit and contributions to the community, which I think is what it's supposed to be."

There seems to be more skepticism in the theater community about the Ivey Awards. One reason is that a similar awards ceremony, the Kudos, died in the early '80s because of lack of interest. Another fear has to do with competition.

Don Eitel, artistic director for Starting Gate Productions in St. Paul, says he's not sure an awards ceremony can be non-competitive.

"When we're all fighting so hard to find audiences, to get that kind of recognition is important," Eitel says. "And so I think there's potential for some bitterness to be there, or for competitive juices to start flowing, which, as you know for business, competition's a good thing. But it can also turn ugly as well."

Organizers of both the Ivey Awards and the Sage Awards want them to become annual events. Don Eitel says he plans to go to the Ivey Awards with an open mind, with the hope it will be an evening people can look forward to every year.

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