Jeff Awards at the Park West

On Monday, June 9, the Joseph Jefferson Awards Committee celebrated its 30th Citations Award ceremony at the Park West in Lincoln Park. The Jeff awards, as they are called, recognize excellence in Chicago-area theatrical productions and theater communities. Monday's awards ceremony honored outstanding non-Equity productions. More than 200 productions were evaluated by the 45-member Jeff Awards Committee, which is made up of theater professionals and enthusiasts.

A new category -- musicals -- debuted at this awards ceremony. Big winners included 'Sunday in the Park with George' (Pegasus Players) and 'The Secret Garden' (Circle Theatre). All in all the 30th Jeff Awards ceremony emphasized community, vibrancy and courage, and was a load of fun.

Many winners were quick to point out the uniqueness of doing theater in Chicago. Suzanne Genz (Actress in a Supporting Role-Musical, for 'A New Brain' at Porchlight Music Theatre Chicago), who is now a Washington DC resident, said theater people are "blessed to do theater in this town." Stephanie Nelson (Scenic Design, for 'Seagull' at Redmoon Theater) thanked Chicago for its "support and openness to creativity." And Charlie Clark (Actor in a Principal Role-Musical, for 'Company' at Porchlight Music Theatre Chicago) thanked "the courage of Chicago," as well as those "with the integrity and courage to commit to new work." Clark voiced what others were saying implicitly when he said that "communities are an important part of what we all do."

Echoing these comments were David G. Zak, who received a special Jeff Citation for his "creative energy and leadership in bringing diverse communities into Chicago theatre." Zak, who is co-founder and Artistic Director of Baliwick, spoke of the importance of the courage to survive, the courage to sit on boards, and the courage to be a part of the Lesbian Theater Initiative. He credits the Chicago theater community with preserving the much-needed "freedom to fail."

Jim Slonina (Actor in a Principal Role-Play, for 'Seagull' at Redmoon Theater) said something similar when he mentioned that Chicago makes the best theater in the world, "especially new works." New works, Slonina said, are fundamentally "beneficial to the community, country and world." And Jim Lasko (New Adaptation, for 'Seagull' at Redmoon Theater) said he was accepting his award collaboratively. He said the work the theater community does "is urgent, especially in an atmosphere of funding cuts," and it is imperative to keep at it.

This theme of communities (large and small) was literally displayed on stage during the ensemble awards. Half the audience, it seemed, was up when TimeLine Theatre Co ('Awake and Sing'), Lifeline Theatre ('Around the World in 80 Days'), The Hypocrites ('Machinal') and Trap Door Theatre ('Nana') ensembles accepted their awards. Circle Theatre (Production-Musical, for 'The Secret Garden') accepted their Jeff collectively, but announced 10-year old star Amy Sparrow "the future of Chicago theater."

Victoria Delorio (Sound Design, for 'Around the World in 80 Days' at Lifeline Theatre) seemed genuinely out of her element in the spotlight. She said that people don't normally single out sound design -- usually something is wrong when that happens. She said her job is to be "subconsciously manipulative."

Finally, Kevin Bellie (Choreography, for 'The Secret Garden' at Circle Theatre) had a little jab for the critics who don't get out to Circle Theatre out in Forest Park but are able to travel to NY to do reviews. "Take the Blue Line out, you bitches!"