Tootsie Awards, 2022

by Lynn on December 23, 2022

in The Passionate Playgoer

2022 Tootsie Awards

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

Any Artistic Director and theatre company that was bold enough to produce theatre in 2022 after 18 months of closure, either by streaming or in person work. Bravo and thank you.

Mitchell Cushman and his Outside the March Company

For his production of Trojan Girls & The Outhouse of Atreus by Gillian Clark.

Not content just to immerse the audience in his production in various locations of a site, director Mitchell Cushman set the story to unfold in two locations of the Factory Theatre simultaneously. Half the audience watched one part of the story inside the Factory Studio Theatre and the other half of the audience watched one part in the courtyard of the theatre. The cast shifted breathlessly between the two locations. Then, after intermission the audiences switched locations to see the other part.

Mitchell Cushman has a wild, vivid sense of theatre that keeps ramping up the daring needed to create a compelling work of theatre. With Trojan Girls & The Outhouse of Atreus he has surpassed even his wildest creations. I’m throbbing to see what he does next.

Eric Woolfe and Adrianna Prosser

These two lovely people took over the running and programming of The Red Sandcastle Theatre on Queen Street East when founder Rosemary Doyle moved to Kingston to run The Grand Theatre there. The Red Sandcastle Theatre seats perhaps 50 people. Programming and running the space is daunting under the best of times. To do it after a pandemic shutdown takes the guts of a bandit and they have it in spades.

Added to that is the impish whimsy of the two. Not only did they produce the film-noir-weird Eric Woolfe play, Requiem for a Gumshoe, but after Adrianna Prosser warmly welcomed everyone to the space, checked their tickets etc. she sent the folks to their seats with a cheery, “I hope you survive it!” Guts!!

The Jon Kaplan Mensch Award

Tanisha Taitt

As the Artistic Director of Cahoots Theatre, Tanisha Taitt has created many initiatives for young theatre makers to give them a safe space to explore their theatre ideas and develop them.

And Tanisha Taitt recognized the talent in Kanika Ambrose and her play our place. The play was submitted to the Cahoots Hot House initiative before Tanisha Taitt arrived at Cahoots, but Taitt recognized Kanika Ambrose’s talent and nurtured it. Taitt workshopped and developed the play. She recognized not only Kanika Ambrose’s talent but also the burgeoning talent of Sabryn Rock as a new director, spreading her talents from acting to include directing and hired Sabryn Rock to direct our place.

Glenn Sumi

Glenn Sumi and (the late, beloved) Jon Kaplan both covered theatre for NOW Magazine (Glenn also covered film, comedy, opera etc.). When Jon passed away in 2017 Glenn’s reviewing responsibilities increased. He is hugely knowledgeable about the arts and especially theatre. He is a thoughtful, fair-minded, constructively critical reviewer. His writing is spare but informative, nuanced and perceptive of what he is reviewing and compassionate.  It speaks volumes about Glenn’s character and devotion to covering the theatre that he has been working without being paid since April, 2022 as NOW Magazine limps towards extinction. Without missing a step, Glenn will continue to cover theatre with his same professionalism through his new website “So Sumi” Click here and subscribe:

They Go the Extra Mile To Get the Word Out Award.


There are fewer and fewer media outlets reviewing theatre on a regular basis. These publicists go the extra mile for their clients and for the people reviewing them. They reply to e-mail queries and requests immediately. They fill requests for tickets and interviews with a very quick turnaround. They make suggestions for ‘the perfect interview’ and are tenacious in getting us to say yes. If one screws up and forgets to confirm a press seat, they find that seat even if the show is sold out. If one is lucky, they will even correct your copy of typos and factual glitches (Thank you, Carrie).  

Randy Aldread (Mirvish)

Caitlin Core (The Grand, London, Ont.)

Milusha Copas (Soulpepper)

Sara Cotton (Theatre Aquarius, Hamilton)

Clare Hill (Young People’s Theatre)

Jennifer Lamb (Blyth Festival, Blyth, Ont.)

Lauren Naus (Factory Theatre)

Angela Poon (Dance at Harbourfront)

Carrie Sager (Crow’s Theatre)

Katie Saunoris (freelancer to various theatres)

Ann Swerdfager (Stratford Festival)

Sue Toth (Mirvish)

The Arkady Spivak Gifted Theatre Creator Award

Michael Torontow

Michael Torontow is the Artistic Director of Talk is Free Theatre in Barrie, Ontario. I have noted in the past the special ability of TIFT founder, Arkady Spivak to find talent in people and nurture it. One such person is Michael Torontow. He began as an actor in musical theatre (The Music Man etc.). Spivak saw the talents of a director in Michael Torontow and had him direct Into the Woods as his first foray into directing—a huge challenge. Michael Torontow displayed a gift for directing that piece and digging deep into it to illuminate its beauty. This year he guided and oversaw the creation of a three-part piece entitled Written in Blood that examined the story of “Dracula” over a day in Barrie, Ont. at various locations in the city. A stunning accomplishment. And if that wasn’t enough, Michael Torontow also starred in TIFT’s Toronto production of Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. He was both terrifying and heartbreaking.

The One(s) to Watch Award

Kanika Ambrose

Kanika Ambrose is a playwright, librettist, actor and theatre creator. Her work has been seen at the Paprika Festival, Toronto Fringe and SummerWorks among others. Her play our place was nurtured, workshopped and dramaturged at Cahoots by Tanisha Taitt, the Artistic Director. It’s about two Black women who are working in Toronto illegally to send money back to their families. It’s a song to friendship and resolve and a dart at the immigration system.  It had a production co-produced by Cahoots and Theatre Passe Muraille that showed Kanika Ambrose imagination with story, compassion for her characters, and a facility with language that is muscular and compelling.

Liam Donovan

Liam Donovan is the creator of the Lights Up Toronto blog that reviews Toronto theatre in a provocative, informed way. He is an undergrad at the University of Toronto studying Drama and English. His writing and opinions are smart, compact and succinct. He describes his reviews as: “Thoughtful, low stakes reflections on high stakes Toronto theatre.”

There have been a few valiant efforts to provide workshops for developing theatre reviewers, focusing on a young, diverse cohort—The Fringe, Generator, University of Toronto. But it seems only Liam Donovan has taken up the challenge of this initiative (he did the Young Critics Workshops offered by The Fringe) and started his own blog to regularly post theatre reviews. Bravo to him. Check him out.

Breton Lalama

Breton is a queer, trans non-binary actor originally from Halifax, Nova Scotia where they performed in The Rocky Horror Show, Fully Committed and Pleasureville. They have performed in the North American tour of Hair, and Orlando at the Manitoba Theatre Centre. Their work as Oswald and others in King Lear, Olena and Oswald in Queen Goneril and Buddy, Owl, Buttercup and Caterpillar in Alice in Wonderland displays a breadth of talent and ability that is always compelling and true.

Sabryn Rock

Sabryn Rock is a very gifted actor with a solid career of creating characters that are mesmerizing in their intelligence, detail and rigor. She is now spreading her talents to directing. Her first foray was directing our place by Kanika Ambrose. Sabryn Rock displayed the same intellectual rigor and creativity in her direction. She realized the play’s story and intension. Her sense of vision is clear, precise and confident. She then directed a reading of Sara Farb’s recent play Love Us Most and again the result was deeply layered and nuanced. I look forward to whatever Sabryn Rock has planned as a director (and of course as an actor).  

The Boootiful Thanks for the Fractured Tales Award

Ross Petty

After more than 25 years of providing whacky, funny, fractured tales for families at the holidays in December, Ross Petty, the Maestro of Mayhem, is flashing his mischievous smile at the audience for the last time, daring them to boo him, and retiring. His last show was Peter’s Last Flight. For this special show Ross Petty played Captain Hook one last time.

Families of several generations learned about perfect timing of audience participation when they hurled their loud boos at him, on cue. He smiled wider. They booed louder. It was a perfect union. It was great fun. A lovely gift for more than 25 years. Best of luck in all you boo, er, do, Mr. Petty. Happy retirement.


The Compellingly Indecent Way To Retire Award


Produced by Studio 180 and presented by Mirvish Productions.

Joel Greenberg is the founding Artistic Director of Studio 180. He has directed many of its productions, the last one being Indecent by Paula Vogel, which was part of the Off-Mirvish 2022 season. Joel Greenberg retires at the end of the year as Artistic Director.  

Indecent is a story of tender but ‘forbidden’ love, racism and a keen belief in the power of art. Joel Greenberg brought his usual sensitivity, intelligence and perceptive theatrical eye to the production. The production was rich in theatricality, simplicity and squeezed the heart. Joel has provided a solid grounding for Studio 180 so it can continue producing challenging theatre, into the future.

The Secrets are Hiding in the Corners Award

Uncle Vanya

Produced by Crow’s Theatre

This terrific production was directed with tremendous style, intelligence and thought by Chris Abraham, Artistic Director of Crow’s Theatre. Often scenes were played out in corners where characters were secretive; hiding information, but pricking the audience’s curiosity; sometimes scenes were deliberately obstructed to better focus where we should be looking. A beautiful evocative, wonderfully acted production that realized the beating heart of the play and the heartache of the characters.  

Ignore the Homeless or Troubled Person at Your Peril Award

Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

Produced by Talk Is Free Theatre

Thrilling. Every single second of this dark, haunting musical is realized in Mitchell Cushman’s deeply imagined direction for Talk Is Free Theatre in a Toronto production. We follow the sublime cast as they scurry through the many rooms on three floors of the Neighbourhood Food Hub (a former church).

Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street is one of Stephen Sondheim’s darkest, most compelling musicals. It’s about those troubled people we pass on the street without ‘seeing’ them. What Mitchell Cushman and his gifted cast have done in this glorious production is make us look, consider and pay attention.

Make Every Piece of Art Count Before You Send It Into Space Award.

The Golden Record

Produced by Soulpepper

Mike Ross, the Musical Director for Soulpepper, re-created “The Golden Record” a time capsule of music, images, art and thoughts, that was sent into space with The Voyager Space Ship in 1977. With his wonderful collaborating cast, they re-imagined the music on the Golden Record, offered commentary and spoke through dance. The evening was more than “just” a concert. It was an evening full of exquisite artistry from a group of musicians with music pouring out of their fingertips. It was a stunning, smart, thoughtful show that would change the way we listen to music, songs, dance and how we see the world.  Every single person involved is an artist of the first order.

A Good Story Bears Repeating Award

The Drawer Boy

Produced at the Blyth Festival, Blyth, Ont.

The Drawer Boy is Michael Healey’s beautiful classic play is about friendship, hiding a painful secret and kindness.  Director Gil Garratt and his sterling cast of Jonathan Goad as Morgan, Randy Hughson as Angus and Cameron Laurie as Miles, go deeper into the emotional punch of the play and raise the stakes between Morgan and Angus. There is so much depth in these performances and in the production as directed by Gil Garratt. Garratt directs with such subtlety and care. What I got from this production was not just a play of a profound friendship, but one of heart-squeezing kindness.

It Creeps Up On You and is a Gut-Punch That Leaves You Winded Award

Girls & Boys

Produced by Here For Now Theatre, Stratford, Ont.

Written by Dennis Kelly, with an astonishing performance by Fiona Mongillo and directed by Lucy Jane Atkinson. Here for Now Theatre, the scrappy little company in Stratford, Ont. has produced bracing, compelling theatre since it began producing this summer festival in Stratford, Ont. Girls & Boys is one of the best they have done, and they have done some pretty fine work. It’s about a confident, charming woman telling us the harrowing story of how her marriage and her life unravelled, slowly and irrevocably. At the centre of it was Fiona Mongillo giving one of the most composed, harrowing performances you will see in a long time.  Gripping in every single way.

Gleaming with Humanity Award

Gem of the Ocean

Produced by the Shaw Festival, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont.

August Wilson writes of the Black experience in America, of migration, slavery, forced separation from loved ones, love and respect for ones’ fellows and generally kindness. It’s 1904. We are in Pittsburgh’s Hill District—August Wilson’s home town and neighbourhood—1839 Wylie Ave. to be exact. This is where Aunt Ester Tyler lives. She is 285 years old. She is the revered matriarch of the neighbourhood. She is also the emotional, spiritual and historical center of the play and the production. She is the conduit for all the characters in the play to find their lost souls, their connection to their roots and their connection to their collected history, as once enslaved African-Americans. Each character has a deep story.

Philip Akin directed this stunning play and production with a sure, sensitive hand. The performances were guided by Akin’s intellectual rigor, his attention to the smallest detail and to the beating heart of the play.  

We Don’t Have to Explain Our Customs to You Award

Death and the King’s Horseman

Produced by the Stratford Festival.

The Stratford Festival production of Death and the King’s Horseman was bristling with drama, poetry, ceremony, tradition and racism.

Death and the King’s Horseman by Wole Soyinka takes place in Nigeria during WWII when it was under British colonial rule. A Yoruba King has died the month before. The tradition dictates that the King’s Horseman is required to accompany the King into the afterlife. That means the Horseman has to commit suicide. But this sacred ritual is interrupted when the ruling British overseers stop the tradition—they think it barbaric– resulting in an unforeseen tragedy.

Rather than look at the play from ‘our’ culture and point of view, Death and the King’s Horseman makes us look at it fresh, anew, from the Nigerian point of view. Their people, culture and traditions were being ‘managed’ by the colonizing British and the Nigerian’s were standing up and ‘pushing’ back to protect their culture.

Director Tawiah M’Carthy has directed a production full of the music, drama, throbbing beat and heart of the play. His direction is assured, confident, all embracing of the audience and carefully measured for the maximum effect.

The Hope, Resolve and Tenacity Award

Produced by the Stratford, Festival


1939 is a gently pointed play in which Indigenous voices give Shakespeare’s All’s Well That Ends Well an Indigenous interpretation.

1939 only touches on the war looming in Europe. The bigger issue for co-writers Jani Lauzon and Kaitlyn Riordan is looking at the Indigenous students in a residential school and finding a positive way of illuminating their hope, resolve, tenacity and embrace of a Shakespeare play to speak for them and help them find their true voice. Jani Lauzon has directed the play with a quiet vision and a keen way of establishing relationships. The play has a lot to say that is important to hear. The message is quietly resounding and clear.

Is That a Man or a Puppet? Award

Produced by Plexus Polaire, co-presented with Why Not Theatre at Harbourfront.

Moby Dick

Yngvild Aspeli is the director, creator and Artistic Director of Plexus Polaire, a French-Norwegian company. Seven actors bring 50 puppets ‘to life’ to tell the story of Captain Ahab and how he was obsessed in hunting a giant white whale named Moby Dick.

The visual realization of this compelling story with these life-sized and life-like puppets, the artistry of the performers and puppets and director Yngvild Aspeli’s keen imagination, make Moby Dick one of the theatrical highlights of the year.  

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1 Harold Povilaitis December 26, 2022 at 1:52 pm

As always, Lynn, reading your annual Tootsie Awards article is such a wonderful way to relive so many special achievements in Ontario’s theatres over the past year … THANK YOU SO MUCH !