The 2014 Merritt Awards payed homage to the past and pointed the way to a bright future for theatre in Nova Scotia.
The ceremony, a three-hour long marathon held in the Schooner Room of Casino Nova Scotia, was hosted by funny-man Bill Wood who joked that he’d been instructed to shape his hosting style as “more Tina Fey, less Ricky Gervais.” (Wood’s Halifax translation: More Jackie Torrens, less Jeremy Webb.)
In an evening filled with speeches and thank yous, the prize for most heartfelt had to go to Outstanding Stage Manager/Technician Award-winner Matthew Downey whose voice cracked with emotion as he declared “I didn’t even know I was nominated”. Downey went on to thank the Bus Stop Theatre for renewing his passion for theatre and Neptune Theatre—the big winner of the night, scoring four trophies including Outstanding Production for Red—for paying him to work in the arts. Pint-sized Leesa Hamilton got lots of laughs when she accepted the award for Outstanding Costume Design for her work with Cathleen MacCormack on Zuppa Theatre’s Uncle Oscar’s Experiment. Hamilton declared she wasn’t nervous at all as the audience couldn’t actually see her behind the tall podium.
The oft-nominated Martha Irving lost her status as the Susan Lucci of the Halifax theatre scene when she took home the Outstanding Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role trophy for her performance in LunaSea’s production of Henrik Ibsen’s Ghosts. She spoke eloquently about the power of theatre as an agent for change.
A special portion of the evening was devoted to remembering the talented and beloved Vanessa Walton-Bone who passed away in 2013 after making an indelible mark on the local theatre community.
A highlight of the night was the presentation of the two Mayor's Awards by Mayor Mike Savage. “It’s been said that politics is just show business for ugly people,” joked Savage, adding that with all his recent forays into video, he’s actually crossed that line. He affirmed the city’s commitment to the arts and spoke about the proposed new arms-length Special Arts and Cultural Advisory Committee and the increased arts funding that will come with it.
Evan Brown, recipient of the Mayor's Award for Emerging Theatre Artist, described the struggle of independent theatre in Halifax and of his particular home base, the Bus Stop Theatre, saying it often seems like love is given to Halifax but not always returned. Brown invited everyone to see what great work is being done.
Other big winners of the night included Two Planks and a Passion, Shakespeare by the Sea and 2b Theatre, each taking home two awards. For a list of all the award- winners, go to http://www.merrittawards.ca/nominees/index.asp.