I performed at the Iveys and it was OK


Somewhere above my head, there was an award show happening

Well, here we are again: another year, another Ivey Awards. Another chance to show 'em all that you've got what it takes, and you've earned the right to put a hefty chunk of plastic approximately the shade of Mt. Dew on your mantel. Another chance to to wow 'em with your amazing fashion sensibilities.  Another chance to get roaring, cynically drunk behind a potted tree at the afterparty.

I was at the ceremony this year, but I didn't really see much of it. I was briefly onstage performing in one of the few non-musical acts of the night, and that two minutes of stage time translated into most of my night being spent in the basement of the State Theater, waiting around for a stage call and catching portions of the show through the green room speakers and a monitor. There was a lot of Buca di Beppo pasta down there as well. I wasn't sure if that was supposed to be there for the performers, since no one told us if we could or couldn't eat it. The concrete green room of the State smelled of cheese and garlic.

By the way, that stage call we were waiting on never came, and there was not a run sheet or staff person to be found downstairs. There was more than a dollop of chaos and confusion back stage. Many questions were asked downstairs—like "Are they going to come get us?" and "When is that song that we're all supposed to be singing in?"—and the answers were always "I don't know." I assume, though, those of you upstairs watching in the house got the same more or less slick, shiny, chopped and channeled product you've come to expect. Though, you did get a taste of chaos for a moment in the middle of the ceremony, when, for the longest 30 seconds in the world, absolutely no one came out on stage, no one said anything and nothing happened. Don't worry, I'm sure this flub will go missing in the edit when the Ivey ceremony is broadcast on TV next week.

So, I didn't get to walk down the red carpet. I didn't get an extra super special full color glossy program. I didn't get to show off the cool outfit that I put together for this unforgettable occasion. I didn't even get to sit with my date. It was like going to prom, except that I was a nerdy sophomore who volunteered to help with concessions.

I also didn't have the pleasure of being wanded by the new metal detecting "security measures" that were rolled out this year. Let's be honest with ourselves about these "security measures," Ivey Awards: you weren't really afraid of a deranged theater person firing wildly into the crowd after being snubbed for the 12th year in a row, were you? No, I suspect the metal detecting wands were to there to weed out the drunken jerks like me who have been sneaking flasks into the award ceremony for so many years that we weren't even bothering much to hide it anymore. But you will never stand in the way of drunken jerks, for we are far too industrious when it comes to being drunk, and we are jerks. I just want to say one word to you. Just one word. Are you listening? "Plastics."

"But what about the awards?!" you are most likely impatiently screaming at your computer screen. You're right. I should report on that. I'm sorry. I'm a little off my game this year, in not being drunk during the ceremony and therefoer not being hungover this morning as I write this. In spite of my natural tendency to try to find a way around security theater when I see it, I decided to experience this year's awards stone cold sober for the very first time, in the hopes that I would have a different perspective on the Iveys, the winners and their place in this community; and, after much thought and reflection, I can definitely say, without a shadow of a doubt, that awards were given out.

It's really a fool's errand to try to analyze the Iveys. With no categories or nominees, a final selection process with the opacity of particularly dense concrete and only 12-14 actual awards handed out each year, it presents a sample size so small and a methodology so hazy that Andrew Wakefield could use it to prove that theater causes autism.

The Iveys placed a priority this year on diversifying its evaluators and diversifying their experiences by drafting more actual theater people and assigning them shows to view. In the past, evaluators were allowed to go out to whatever shows they wanted, and since being an Ivey evaluator comes with free tickets, it's no surprise that the Guthrie was as covered in evaluations as a car parked under a mulberry tree is covered in bird poo, while most small companies struggled valiantly and in vain to get the required six evaluators to even be considered for an award. (Trust me, more than once, I've been that producer who watched closing night come and go as that great and powerful Sixth Ivey Evaluator canceled at the last minute.)

With all that effort to change, I would have guessed that this year's awards would have highlighted more things off the beaten path. There are so many weird, strange and beautiful things that happen in the theater community in this city; but, this year, the very first award went to a show at the Guthrie, and it kind of continued in that vein. The vast majority of winners were from shows playing at the big houses in town, which, to me, was kind of a sad reversal of the trend from last year, where the little guys started to get a little more love.

Though the little guys can get their revenge in their little ways. During the obligatory "thank the sponsors" segment, this year hosted by the obligatory "Trump and Hillary impersonators," the Trump stand-in made a dig at the Fringe Festival, which elicited a long, loud and forceful round of boos from the audience.

So, were there any trends this year? The Iveys made sure that the exciting new Artistic Directors in town (Joseph Haj from the Guthrie and Sarah Rasmussen from the Jungle) got to stand behind the lectern holding a yellow chunk of lucite. They handed out more awards for design than usual (in that they handed out more than one): Victor Zupanc for sound design and music, Kate Sutton-Johnson for set design, and the Emerging Artist award to costume designer Trevor Bowen. As for the acting awards, they seemed to be cramming in as many people as possible. The Iveys gave out "ensemble" awards to the actors in the Guthrie's Trouble in Mind and to New Epic Theater's show from the Fringe Festival Now or Later. (Side note: can we please highlight the fact that a Fringe show won an Ivey this year? Suck it, fake Trump.) Even Kevin Fanshaw and Charles Numrich, who won for their performances in Theatre Coup d'Etat's production of Equus, had to share an award. I assume that the Iveys are being environmentally conscious and trying to conserve the amount of new plastic they send out into the world.

In the end, the Star Tribune's long-time and only kinda' sorta' retired theater critic Graydon Royce was given the lifetime achievement award. I would like to say more about the video they put together to honor him and the speech he gave, but at that moment, I had to head back to the depths of the State to get ready to be one more dot in a crowd of people drafted to sing in the chorus for the closing number. I trust that Graydon said something nice and that other people said nice things about him.

In the end, my feelings about the Ivey Awards this year are best summed up with this short anecdote from the evening: after performing onstage, I and some of my fellow performers tried to go out the door directly to the house from backstage to watch as much of the show as we could; but we were blocked from using the house door by a camera crew. We exited out the stage door onto the street and went around to the front door of the theater, like some random guys who just arrived really late to the party. Twelve feet above the street, before the award ceremony was halfway through, the crew was already pulling down the letters on the marquee and replacing them with the next show. "CELTVY AWARDS", the sign now declared to the empty sidewalk. Soon a "V" and a "Y" dropped away, too.

But, hey, at least this year I actually saw one of the shows that won an award. That's something new.

So, to all of you who won this year: congratulations. Don't take anything above as me poo-pooing your accomplishments. You all do great work, and you deserve your moments. I hope you had a good time, and I hope that all of us could celebrate victory even half as well as Patton Oswalt winning an Emmy.

Other things of interest

You know that other things were happening, right? Here are some of them:

(1) The Knight Foundation has come out with its list of finalists for the third Knight Arts Challenge. Snowblower ballet? Why not!

(2) Nimbus Theatre is back with a new theater that is not called "Nimbus Theatre". It will be called The Crane Theater. I hope this isn't too confusing for you.

(3) Earlier this year, I mentioned Open Window Theatre and their space/landlord troubles. The troubles have moved on to the next step where they are petitioning the city to crack down on their landlord.

(4) The Guthrie's level 9 initiative continues apace.

(5) Edward Albee is dead. Long live Edward Albee!

(6) A few weeks ago, I took a long look at the problems of ticket scalping, which almost nobody paid attention to because that article also briefly touched on the current Fringe Festival lawsuit. Anyway, Chance the Rapper has joined in the fight to stop scalpers by putting his own money in their hands. I, uh… I don't know if that's the right incentive.

(7) Speaking of the current Fringe Festival lawsuit, it went before a judge last week. No decision has been issued yet. Don't go freaking out and speculating about what this means. It means absolutely nothing, except that the court system is working the way it normally does, where judges actually take time to make decisions.

(8) Howard Sherman asks if we should go rifling through television's past to find new material for the stage.

(9) Japan answers him with, "No, you should obviously rifle through manga's past to find new material for the stage. The Kabuki mashup of the legendary manga One Piece has been so popular that a filmed version will be shown in movie theaters.

Headshot of Derek Lee Miller
Derek Lee Miller

Derek Lee Miller is an actor, puppeteer, writer, designer, builder and musician (basically, he'll do anything to make a buck). He is a founding ensemble member of Transatlantic Love Affair.