2021 Tootsie Awards

by Lynn on December 21, 2021

in The Passionate Playgoer

As many of you know, I have been giving out Tootsie Pops for many years to people in the theatre as a way of saying ‘thank you for making the theatre so special for me.’ Instead of doing top 10 lists of the best theatre and performances of the year, I do The Tootsie Awards that are personal, eclectic, whimsical and totally subjective.

Here are this year’s winners:


The Guts of a Bandit Award

Mirvish Productions

All four theatres belonging to this Toronto theatre company had been closed for the pandemic. But Mirvish Productions was the first company that welcomed audiences back into their building this August when the powers that be gave permission, for the production of Blindness at the Princess of Wales Theatre. It had been postponed from November of the previous year. Audiences were invited into the theatre in limited numbers, distanced and seated in disinfected seats. We had to wear disinfected headphones to hear the dulcet tones of Juliet Stevenson as she led us on the adventure of listening to and engaging with the compelling story of how an epidemic of blindness affected a whole city.  Being in a theatre with other like-minded theatre lovers was thrilling, moving and transformative.

Gil Garratt

He’s the Artistic Director of the Blyth Festival, Blyth, Ont. There’s a pandemic on. Indoor theatre has been bashed about or cancelled by ever-changing attendance instructions by a thoughtless Provincial Government, many of whom I’m sure have never been inside a theatre. What does Gil Garratt do? He builds a new outdoor theatre in a former soccer field, in record time, and he produces a season of original Canadian plays. The theatre is called the Harvest Stage and it’s beautiful and so were the productions.  

Weyni Mengesha

Weyni Mengesha is the Artistic Director of Soulpepper Theatre Company, Toronto. She planned a series of audio plays called “Around the World in 80 Plays”—(not really 80 plays, but a wonderful, challenging cross-section of eight plays that celebrated the different stories and cultures of Canada and the world):  Moonlodge by Margo Kane (Canada), The Seagull by Anton Chekhov (Russia), Six Characters in Search of an Author by Luigi Pirandello (Italy), The Walls  by Griselda Gambaro (Argentina), Hayavadana by Girish Karnad (India), The Parliament of Birds Guillermo Verdecchia (adapted from the Persian poem, “The Conference of the Birds”, by Sufi poet Farid ud-Din Attar (Iran), She Mami Wata & the PxssyWitch Hunt by d’bi.young anitafrika (Jamaica), Death and the King’s Horseman by Wole Soyinka (Nigeria). The audio productions, casts and quality were top notch.

Brett Christopher

Managing Artistic Director of Thousand Islands Playhouse, Gananoque. For adapting quickly in producing Sexy Laundry by Michele Riml, starring Sarah Dodd and Shawn Wright, in August, when it was safe to bring his loyal audience inside the Firehall Theatre, safely distanced at 50% capacity. Audiences flocked and the show was held over.

Martha Henry

Martha Henry was a towering presence in Canadian theatre as an actress, director and teacher/mentor. She starred in Three Tall Woman by Edward Albee, directed by Diana Leblanc and starring Lucy Peacock, Mamie Zwettler and Andrew Iles this summer at the Stratford Festival. Martha Henry played the role of “A” while dealing with cancer. She began the production using a walker to negotiate the stage and by the end of the run was using a wheelchair to move. Martha Henry’s performance was a masterclass in fearlessness, guts, tenacity and determination. Her performance was incandescent. Martha Henry died 12 days after the production closed.

The Jon Kaplan Mensch Award

Itai Erdal, Dima Alansari and Ker Wells.

Theatre makers Itai Erdal, Dima Alansari and director Ker Wells created a gripping, embracing production of This is Not a Conversation that took place digitally as part of the wonderful IMPACT21 Festival that originates in Kitchener, Ont.

Itai Erdal was born in Israel and lives in Canada. Dima Alansari was born in Lebanon to a Palestinian family and lives all over the world, but they met at a dinner party in Vancouver. The ‘conversation’ is about their ideas and attitudes about the charged political situation in Israel and Palestine. At times the conversation is difficult, challenging and unsettling. Both Erdal and Alansari speak with conviction but sensitivity to the other’s point of view. The discussion is never insulting or condescending to the other. Painful truths are told with respect. It was directed with care by the late Ker Wells. Erdal, Alansari and Wells have created a discussion that is bracing and hopeful.

The Arkady Spivak Gifted Theatre Creator Award

I seem to celebrate Arkady Spivak every year. He is the wildly creative Artistic Producer of Talk Is Free Theatre in Barrie, Ont. (to be accurate, late in the year he became CEO of the company and gave the Artistic Direction job to Michael Torontow—more on him later). Spivak produced the “Bees in the Bush” Festival this year outdoors in parks and backyards. He continues to find talent in people, cultivates it, urges those talents to think outside anything that might be confining-a box, an envelope, a bubble, a world– and lets people run with their ideas. Glorious. Maja Ardal, another gifted theatre creator, said that Arkady should be given an award. Wise woman. Here it is.

The first recipient of The Arkady Spivak Gifted Theatre Creator Award is:

Arkady Spivak

For providing some of the best theatre anywhere and making Barrie a theatre-going destination; for cultivating an audience of theatre goers who expect and value the unexpected in their theatre and who expect to be challenged; for recognizing the talent in actor/singer Michael Torontow to direct and the result was Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods actually produced in the woods in a conservation area in Barrie, and in the leaves of the Winter Garden Theatre in Toronto; for getting me to willingly go into parks, woods, forests, backyards and patios of bars to see bracing theatre.

The One(s) to Watch Award

Ziigwen Miximong

For her play Mno Bimaadiziwin (A Good Way of Living). The play was performed at the Orillia Opera House.  It’s a look into Indigenous culture, set in a sweat lodge in Orillia. Ziigwen Mixemong illuminates the meaning of the title “a good way of living” that involves listening, sharing, respect, decency, forgiveness, kindness and caring for others.  Those who are not Indigenous will find echoes of their culture in this play. Theatre bridges our differences and illuminates our similarities. More than anything, I loved that Ziigwen Mixemong celebrates the all including embrace of Indigenous culture in the play. This kind of talent must be supported, embraced and championed.

Kate Besworth

For her play Done/Undone shown digitally from Bard on the Beach in Vancouver. A bracing, challenging exploration of the question(s): how well do Shakespeare’s plays stand the test of time—and should some of them not be staged anymore?

Playwright Kate Besworth looks at the questions from various points of view, pro/con/undecided in order for the audience to come to their own conclusions. The writing is sharp, smart, intelligent and compelling. Her arguments see all sides. Stunning work.

Iain Moggach

Iain Moggach is the whip-smart, Creative Artistic Director of Theatre by the Bay in Barrie, Ont. I have found his productions inventive, unusual but still embracing theatre. If anything, he strives to attract a diverse audience that might not necessarily go to the theatre.

In The Ghost Watchers, audiences were invited to gather at a certain point by Barrie’s Bay, bringing their cell phones, a good data plan with internet connection, ear phones and lots of curiosity. And we met seven ghosts of the city’s history along the way.

Iain Moggach, also invited Ziigwen Mixemong to write a play for the company.Mno Bimaadiziwin is the result. Iain Moggach is young, creatively gifted, with a keen sense of theatre and how to engage an audience.

Gabe Maharjan

Gabe Maharjan is an ethereal actor adding so many dimensions to their work: Gabe Maharjan played a young character who was acknowledging their gender identity in The Best Friend Blanket Fort Show by Marie Beath Badian for Young People’s Theatre’s “Right Here, Write Now” new play festival; as Alphonse a young boy trying to get home, in Alphonse, as part of the “Bees in the Bush” Festival of Talk Is Free Theatre in Barrie, Ont. or as a serious, efficient elf in All I Want For Christmas at the Centaur Theatre in Montreal, there is an otherworldly quality to Gabe Maharjan’s work that is grounded in truth and sensitivity and that is compelling.

Noah Beemer

Whether Noah Beemer is playing the sweet, innocent but hapless Jack in Into the Woods in Barrie and Toronto, or interpreting complex songs of coping with isolation and loneliness in the concert “Finally There’s Sun” at the Stratford Festival, or playing the charming but irresponsible Lord Alfred Douglas in The Judas Kiss for Talk is Free Theatre, Beemer gets to the heart and soul of every character he plays/sings. There is an innate calmness and confidence to his work. Without effort he engages and captivates his audience and takes them deep into the work.


In Person Productions.

I Can’t See You, But I know You’re There Award


Written by Simon Stephens (adapted from Jose Saramago’s novel)

Directed by Walter Meierjohann

Presented by Mirvish Productions, Toronto, Ont.

In an unnamed city, citizens suddenly find themselves blind. There is no cause. No reason. It’s just sudden. The only one who can see is a doctor’s wife.

We sit in a large room with rows of distanced seats configured for one and two. Each seat has a pair of disinfected ear phones through which we hear the story.  

The lines are spoken by Juliet Stevenson, the celebrated British actress who plays the narrator, the Doctor’s wife and others over the course of the 75-minute show. The voice is measured, controlled and beautifully paced. The sound of that celebrated voice is remarkable. The inflection and diction are tempered, quiet and compelling as we listen through our ear phones. At times we are certain she is beside us, whispering in our ear. Thrilling.

The Enchanted Forest Award

Into the Woods

Music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim.

Book by James Lapine.

Directed by Michael Torontow.

For Talk Is Free Theatre, Barrie, Ont.

When this production of Into the Woods was first done in Barrie in it was billed as a concert that is ‘slightly staged.’ That doesn’t come close to describing the miraculous production director Michael Torontow has created with his gifted creative team and his cast of accomplished pros and up and coming student young performers.”

Michael Torontow has upped the ante on that production with a recent very short run of the show with lots of new cast members, this time playing outdoors in a clearing in Springwater Provincial Park, surrounded by woods, in Barrie, Ont. Stunning. Every single thing about this production is magical and exquisite. Michael Torontow directs with a sure hand, a keen eye for detail and an ability to get the absolute best performances out of his committed cast. The production also played a short run in Toronto at the Elgin Theatre.

The Family Ties Award

The Rez Sisters ( Iskoonigani Isksweewak)

(NOTE: lskoonigani lsksweewak is Cree for The Rez Sisters.

Written by Tomson Highway

Directed by Jessica Carmichael

Produced at the Stratford Festival, Stratford, Ont.

In The Rez Sisters, Tomson Highway has written a celebration of women who are quirky, resolute, funny, irreverent, smarmy, loving and true friends when it’s needed. The play is a joyful celebration of sisterhood in all its prickliness. When The Rez Sisters was first produced in 1986 it exploded onto the theatre scene in Toronto proclaiming Tomson Highway as a new, vibrant voice telling stories we needed to hear. He has been contributing his vivid plays and stories to theatre for 35 years. This production was terrific.

Towering in Every Way Award

Three Tall Women

Written by Edward Albee

Directed by Diana Leblanc

Played at the Studio Theatre, Stratford Festival, Stratford, Ont.  

The play is about three women at three stages of life. It’s also about the eldest woman, “A” who is 91 and at the end of her life. The central point of the production was that “A” was played by Martha Henry. She was incandescent in the part and illuminated the art of acting to a level that was astonishing for those lucky enough to see it. Her director (Diana Leblanc) and cast (Lucy Peacock, Mamie Zwettler and Andrew Iles) enveloped Martha Henry with care, “rose to her occasion” and created a production that was blazing.

Digital Productions, streamed, etc.

The Go For Broke Award


Written by Rick Roberts

Directed by Richard Rose

Produced by Tarragon Theatre, Toronto.

A wild, fierce, go-for-broke production of the Greek myth reworked to modern on-line times, that is endlessly inventive, sometimes over the top but encapsulates the world we live in.

Bless theatre folks. They find a way to adapt to every difficulty and manage to produce a play and production that is full of heart and guts.

Note: Orestes by Rick Roberts was supposed to have opened the Tarragon 2020-21 season in the theatre, but this little pandemic put a crimp in their plans. So Roberts re-worked the script and director Richard Rose and his crew adapted to the challenging times to present the production on-line and live every night.

The Never Irrelevant Award


Written by Kate Besworth

Directed Arthi Chandra

Produced by Bard on the Beach, Vancouver

A gripping, challenging exploration of the question(s): how well do Shakespeare’s plays stand the test of time—and should some of them not be staged anymore? Watching Charlie Gallant and Harveen Sandhu play various characters sparing with one another is electrifying.

Playwright Kate Besworth looks at the questions from various points of view, pro/con/undecided in order for the audience to come to their own conclusions. The ‘play’ is divided into segments. The segments dealing with a pair of debating scholars is particularly compelling.

The Future is Bright Award

21 Black Futures

Various writers and directors.

Produced by Obsidian Theatre, Toronto, Ont.

To mark Obsidian Theatre’s 21st anniversary, Artistic Director, Mumbi Tindyebwa Otu asked 21 Black playwrights to create 21 short monodramas to be filmed and streamed, focusing on the idea of the future of Blackness. 21 Black Futures was born.

The 21 plays illuminate a cross-section of ideas, forms of expression and different voices. The ideas of the future of Blackness are fascinating.


Beautiful Art Often Comes from Pain Award

The War Being Waged

Written by Darla Contois

Directed by Thomas Morgan Jones

Produced by Prairie Theatre Exchange, Winnipeg.

A challenging, unsettling, exquisite story of the lives of three Indigenous woman in the same family told with grace, dance and powerful understatement.

Three generations of Indigenous women are woven into this new work by Winnipeg-based theatre artist Darla Contois. And three performance genres tell their story – monologue, poetry with video and movement, and contemporary dance – all tied together by the playwright’s story and an all-encompassing set design that has built a world for all three to live inside.”

I am so glad of the chance to see such compelling theatre, digitally, from this terrific theatre company. Last year it was Yvette Nolan’s play Katharsis, a love letter to the theatre from an Indigenous point of view. This year it’s The War Being Waged. Unforgettable work.

Honourable Mention:

FOLDA (Festival of Live Digital Arts)

This digital festival has been around since 2018, giving support to artists working in the digital arts. I only really discovered it this summer and it was terrific. Such productions as Frequencies, Zoo Motel, Katharsis (which I had seen on line at Prairie Theatre Exchange) and Good Things To Do were some of the mind-blowing work this festival presented. Just terrific. Looking forward to next year’s festival and so should you.

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