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42nd Annual Non-Equity Jeff Awards Ceremony Review – Chicago Got Talent!

By Amy Munice with Photos by Peter Kachergis

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They opened by singing a rendition of "There's No Business Like Show Business" with lyrics referencing the Non-Equity scene of this past year

 

Perhaps the everyman speaking for most of the non-equity actors dressed in finery at Park West for the 42nd Annual Non-Equity Jeff Awards ceremony, Thomas Wynne took a break from the pre-ceremony socializing to explain what Chicago’s theater scene means to him. 

 

Congenial Thomas Wynne who represented all the ills of capitalism in "The Jungle" told us that playing the villain is generally his wheelhouse, and then went on to share how important the purity of Chicago's theater scene is to him

 

Wynne, a Georgia native, said, “I came to Chicago for the theater, choosing Chicago over other places because of the idea of message over production values, or to put it another way, because of wanting content instead of commercialism.  It’s not a city where you can really make it just be your job, but the productions you are putting out are more fulfilling…You also can put your own projects out that are low budget much easier than in New York or LA.  Chicago is where you can pursue the art of theater best.”

 

Brenda Didier directed the event. One would hope that the Oscars hire her

 

As we spoke Wynne’s fellow ensemble members from Oracle Productions’ mount of an adaptation of Upton Sinclair’s classic “The Jungle” in which Wynne played the villain were filling into the space around us, overflowing with camaraderie and joy.   How better to underline Wynne’s comments than to note that non-equity Oracle Productions which produced “The Jungle” is committed to free theater for all. 

 

Sarah Hayes and Karl Hamilton were the masters of ceremony, delivering laugh line after laugh line with Vaudevillian panache

 

Although “The Jungle” ensemble was hungry for an award, they like all others in the capacity Park West crowd cheered their rivals in good humor, here and there applauding for a director or actor whom one can infer has won a treasured spot in the non-equity community’s heart. 

 

Many if not most of the audience members were competing for Jeff Awards themselves, but at the same time seemed to be the biggest fans of their rivals

 

The operative word is “community”.  Go to the Non-Equity Jeff Awards and you feel the tribal bonding at nearly every turn.

 

The emcees suggested that Jeff Committee members should announce themselves when they come to review a production, perhaps by holding a sign like this one

 

It helps that the veteran Masters of Ceremony for the event, Karl Hamilton and Sarah Hayes, know how to pile on the shtick infusing every moment with levity.  They urged us to take a swig of our favorite beverage every time the word “recipient” was mentioned, brandishing the flasks to demonstrate.

 

"Gin/Wild" from Bailiwick Chicago's "The Wild Party" was a spirited opening musical number

 

In between the actual awards there was much entertainment from the community and the theatrical treasures that the community had produced in the past season.  There were seven musical numbers:  “Gin/Wild” from “The Wild Party”; “Speak Low” from “A Kurt Weill Cabaret”;

 

And for "The Full Monty" we got the full monty!

 

More "The Full Monty" introduction from Karl Hamilton

 

“Big Ass Rock” from “The Full Monty”; “Another National Anthem” from “Assassins”;

 

Max DeTogne gave a powerful performance of "Gethsemane: from Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre's "Jesus Christ Superstar"

 

“Gethsemane” from “Jesus Christ Superstar”;

 

When Christina Hall sang "Lovesick Blues" from "Always, Patsy Cline" it was as if she was channeling the country music star

 

“Lovesick Blues” from “Always, Patsy Cline”; and “The Launch” from “Titanic”.

 

And the party got even wilder

 

For the second year there were also snippets from plays, five en toto, including:  Lifeline Theatre’s “Monstrous Regiment”; Griffin Theatre Company’s “Men Should Weep”; Oracle Productions’ “The Jungle”;

 

A scene was enacted from Eclipse Theatre Company's "Ruined"

 

Eclipse Theatre Company’s “Ruined”;  and Jackalope Theatre Company’s “Exit Strategy”.

 

Lifeline Theatre's "The Monstrous Regiment"

 

Emotion-packed already, it was perhaps the “In Memoriam” tribute to Russ Tutterow, Matthew Gunnells, Erin Myers and PJ Paparelli where so many wept that packed the biggest heart-rending wallop.  Many on the crowded stage were holding each other in a tight grip as they sang “Morning Glow”. 

 

Screens on both sides of the hall projected the nominees and winners. Here, pictures of Mathew Gunnells, Russ Tutterow, Erin Myers and PJ Paparelli were shown during the In Memoriam segment

 

Originally the award for Russ Tutterow was not planned to be given posthumously.  The way in which actors and playwrights who had been touched by Tutterow through the years had organized to take care of him in his last months is perhaps the clearest testimony to what it means to be part of the city's theater community.  

 

 

An ad hoc army of volunteers took charge of  Tutterow's care and in the end was with him 24/7.  Susan Lieberman, a Resident Playwright of the Chicago Dramatists organization, a 2005 Jeff Award winning playwright for "Arrangement for Two Violas", and the community member who was staying with Russ in the hospital when he passed away commented, "Russ Tutterow created a community at Chicago Dramatists where playwrights, actors and directors could feel welcome and safe -- a "Sweet Home Chicago" for new plays."  

 

A day after the Awards ceremony, the producer of the evening’s event and Chair of the Non-Equity Jeff Committee, John D. Glover, reflected on the significance of that evening and all Non-Equity Jeff Award events.  Glover commented, “We have nearly 70 non-union theater companies in Chicago.  These include storefront theaters and spaces that many never knew had theater.  Some seat 30, some seat 150.  It’s a vast continuum of venues and companies that have carved out their own niches.  For example Oracle and Quest Theater Ensemble produce plays that are all free.  Hell in a Handbag has been producing drag theater for 13 years!

 

“The passion of Non-Equity Theater has a bittersweet side.   So many talented people start out in Non-Equity and then move to Equity. We miss their company and the excitement that they bring.  There is such a deep passion...”

 

Park West seemed to be overflowing. It was a capacity crowd. John D. Glover, Non-Equity Chair and Producer of the event, shares that there will be discussions regarding possibly switching up to a larger venue next year

 

If you love Chicago theater attending the 43rd Annual Non-Equity Jeff Awards is probably something you should consider.  In the meantime, here is the list of recipients of the 42nd Annual Jeff Awards for you to toast:

 

PRODUCTION – PLAY


"Men Should Weep" - Griffin Theatre Company
 


 

PRODUCTION - MUSICAL
"The Wild Party" - Bailiwick Chicago
 


 

PRODUCTION - REVUE
 "Always... Patsy Cline" - Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre
 

 

ENSEMBLE
 "The Wild Party" - Bailiwick Chicago
 


 

DIRECTOR - PLAY 
Robin Witt - "Men Should Weep" - Griffin Theatre Company
 


 

DIRECTOR - MUSICAL OR REVUE
 Brenda Didier - "The Wild Party" - Bailiwick Chicago
 


 

ACTOR IN A PRINCIPAL ROLE - PLAY
 Kevin Cox - "La Bête" - Trap Door Theatre
 


 

ACTOR IN A PRINCIPAL ROLE - MUSICAL 
Matthew Keffer - "The Wild Party" - Bailiwick Chicago
 


 

ACTRESS IN A PRINCIPAL ROLE - PLAY
 Lori Myers - "Men Should Weep" - Griffin Theatre Company
 


 

ACTRESS IN A PRINCIPAL ROLE - MUSICAL OR REVUE
 Danni Smith - "The Wild Party" - Bailiwick Chicago
 

 

ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE - PLAY
 Shane Kenyon - "If There Is I Haven't Found It Yet" - Steep Theatre Company
 

 

ACTOR IN A SUPPORTING ROLE - MUSICAL
 Donterrio Johnson - "Jesus Christ Superstar" - Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre
 


 

ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE - PLAY
 Ginneh Thomas - "The Submission" - Pride Films and Plays
 


 

ACTRESS IN A SUPPORTING ROLE - MUSICAL OR REVUE 
Danni Smith - "Always... Patsy Cline" - Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre
 


 

NEW WORK
 Ike Holter - "Exit Strategy" - Jackalope Theatre Company
 

 

NEW ADAPTATION
 Matt Foss - "The Jungle" - Oracle Productions
 


 

CHOREOGRAPHY
 Brenda Didier - "The Wild Party" - Bailiwick Chicago
 

 

ORIGINAL MUSIC IN A PLAY
 Nicholas Tonozzi and Sam Allyn - "The Jungle" - Oracle Productions
 


 

MUSIC DIRECTION
 Aaron Benham - "The Wild Party" - Bailiwick Chicago
 


 

SCENIC DESIGN
 Ray Toler  "Vieux Carré" - Raven Theatre
 


 

LIGHTING DESIGN
 Brian Hoehne - "The Wild Party" - Bailiwick Chicago
 

 

COSTUME DESIGN
 Rachel Sypniewski - "La Bête" - Trap Door Theatre
 


 

SOUND DESIGN
 Sarah Espinoza - "The Arsonists" - Strawdog Theatre Company
 

 

ARTISTIC SPECIALIZATION 
Aaron Benham - "A Musical Tribute to the Andrews Sisters" - Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre
 


 

SPECIAL AWARD
 Russ Tutterow

 

For  more information about the Joseph Jefferson Awards, visit the organization’s website.

Published on Jun 11, 2015

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