Slowly I Turn Wins Outstanding Production at Merritt Awards

“Zuppa Theatre Company won outstanding production for Slowly I Turn: A Parlour Vaudeville in One Act, a play Stone created about fathers and sons in which he starred with his father, John.

The play was performed in the living room of Stone and Hamilton’s rented Halifax apartment.”

To read more about the night, read Andrea Nemetz article “N.S. theatre lovers rejoice at Merritt gala” below or at The Chronicle Herald

N.S Theatre Lovers Rejoice at Merritt Gala: Communion best new play by a Nova Scotian

Ben Stone and Leesa Hamilton bought their first house Monday.

Now they will have something to decorate it with.

After inking the deal, they headed to Casino Nova Scotia, where they combined to claim threeMerritt Awards at the gala ceremony Monday night in the Schooner Room.

Zuppa Theatre Company won outstanding production for Slowly I Turn: A Parlour Vaudeville in One Act, a play Stone created about fathers and sons in which he starred with his father, John.

The play was performed in the living room of Stone and Hamilton’s rented Halifax apartment.

Hamilton won the Merritt for set design for her work on what she described as a “little quirky show.” It was her second Merritt of the night.

She earned her first Merritt for costume design for Lysistrata: Temptress of the South, a Two Planks and a Passion Theatre production staged at Ross Creek Centre for the Arts last summer.

The two Merritt Awards held a different significance for Hamilton.

“The first one was like running a marathon. It was huge. There were a lot of balls in the air,” she says of the American Civil War-set Lysistrata, for which she built 40 full costumes over five weeks with the help of seven students.

“Slowly I Turn, was a show from all of our hearts done with our family in our living room. It was a privilege to do, and it was amazing people liked it and acknowledged it on par with all those big shows.”

Communion was another double winner, claiming awards for best supporting actress for Stephanie MacDonald for her turn as troubled daughter Annie and for best new play by a Nova Scotian for Daniel MacIvor.

Staged last February at Neptune’s Scotiabank Studio Theatre, Communion was the first production from new Halifax theatre company KAZAN Co-op, founded by Kathryn MacLellan and her sister, Janet.

When MacIvor’s name was called, Kathryn MacLellan went to the stage with her iPhone, called up the Governor General’s Award-winning playwright and put him on speakerphone to express his thanks in his typically witty fashion.

Antigonish resident Ingrid Risk was nominated for a Merritt for lighting design on Communion and won the award for her work on KAZAN Co-op’s I, Animal, a world premiere by MacIvor staged at the SuperNova Theatre Festival. It was her first Merritt for lighting design after four nominations. Last year, she won the technician award.

“I, Animal was an amazing process with an amazing team,” said Risk, noting she was proud of the show, directed by Richie Wilcox.

MacDonald was also the recipient of the Mayor’s Award for Emerging Theatre Artist presented by an ad-libbing Mayor Mike Savage, who won over the packed room with his humour and vowed support for the arts.

Hugo Dann, whom Theatre Nova Scotia board chairwoman Alexis Milligan called a key player in queer theatre in the city and “a mentor, collaborator and powerful advocate,” received the Mayor’s Award for Established Theatre Artist to a huge standing ovation.

Dann noted that he had recently celebrated his 35th anniversary as a professional actor, a career that started with Mermaid Theatre under co-founder Evelyn Garbary.

He paid tribute to the theatre legend and also thanked Plutonium Playhouse’s Thom Fitzgerald and Neptune Theatre’s George Pothitos for reviving Whale Riding Weather and Glace Bay Miners’ Museum respectively.

Dann was nominated for lead actor for his role as Lyle in Whale Riding Weather, an award his co-star, Hugh Thompson, who played Auto, won.

It was back-to-back Merritt Awards for Thompson, who is more often seen on film and TV than stage.

The Sambro resident won the 2012 Merritt for supporting actor for Neptune Theatre’s production of The Beauty Queen of Leenane.

Thompson said he thought the award should have gone to Dann, who directed him in his first professional show in Toronto. Thompson also praised Whale Riding Weather author Bryden MacDonald, noting MacDonald’s words were a gift.

Jeff Schwager of Dartmouth won his first Merritt for best supporting actor for his role in Neptune Theatre’s Intimate Apparel. He thanked his wife and “best friend” Milligan, calling her his “harshest critic and strongest support.”

Pothitos announced a new award, the Wes Daniels Design Award, “which honours the artistic spirit of late props builder Wes Daniels, a longtime employee of Neptune Theatre.”

Ship’s Company Theatre’s new artistic producer Natasha MacLellan won the Theatre Nova Scotia Scholarship Award and also presented the Legacy Award to Shakespeare by the Sea, which she said began as a dream for Patrick Christopher, Elizabeth Murphy and Jean Morpurgo to present Shakespeare outdoors in Point Pleasant Park in Halifax.

“Their vision changed the landscape of theatre in Nova Scotia,” MacLellan said.

Shakespeare by the Sea, which performed to over 3,000 people on its opening weekend in 1994, keeps the thrill of live theatre alive and well, she said.

After the ceremony, hosted by Jackie Torrens, came to an end, theatre folk danced to the music of Chet Caruso and the Action Figures before heading to an after-party.

But not Stone and Hamilton — or Sue Leblanc, Alex McLean, Stewart Legere and Katie Dorian. They all had to be at rehearsals for Zuppa’s next show: The Attaining Gigantick Dimensions, which opens at Neptune’s Scotiabank Studio Theatre April 12 to 21.

2013 MERRITT WINNERS

Actor: Hugh Thompson, Auto, Whale Riding Weather, Plutonium Playhouse

Actress: Ann-Marie Kerr, Jean Perkins, Funny Money, Festival Antigonish

Supporting Actor: Jeff Schwager, Mr. Marks, Intimate Apparel, Neptune Theatre

Supporting Actress: Stephanie MacDonald, Annie, Communion, KAZAN Co-op

Direction: Anthony Black and Christian Barry, The Story of Mr. Wright, 2b theatre

Set Design: Leesa Hamilton, Slowly I Turn: A Parlour Vaudeville in One-Act, Zuppa Theatre Company

Costume Design: Leesa Hamilton, Lysistrata: Temptress of the South, Two Planks and a Passion Theatre

Lighting Design: Ingrid Risk, “I, Animal,” KAZAN Co-op

Sound Design: Aaron Collier, Domestic Train Wreck, Angels & Heroes Theatres

Original Composition or Score: Allen Cole, Lysistrata: Temptress of the South, Two Planks and a Passion Theatre

New Play by a Nova Scotian: Daniel MacIvor, Communion, KAZAN Co-op

Production: Slowly I Turn: A Parlour Vaudeville in One-Act, Zuppa Theatre

Merritt Legacy Award: Shakespeare by the Sea

Merritt Volunteer Award: Dick Sircom, Dartmouth Players

Technician Award: Garrett Barker

Stage Manager: Sarah O’Brien

Mayor’s Award for Achievement in Theatre: Hugo Dann

Mayor’s Emerging Theatre Artist Award: Stephanie MacDonald