On some level, making theatre is always about risk-taking: That the audience will trust you to guide them into a world you’re building before their eyes; that the scaffolding of said world will support the story’s weight; that both audience and actors will meet the emotional tenor of the moment on-key. But Nova Scotian theatre doesn’t stop there. It takes form and medium to the edge, exploring what happens when you make a play an app or when you cast a woman in a man’s role. It makes sending mail a play—and blows up the three-act, narrative-climax expectation with theatre that’s more like installation art than a play.
Last night at 5pm, Theatre Nova Scotia recognized many of the local theatre scene’s brightest stars as it dropped the nomination list for the 2022 Merritt Awards. After skipping its annual awards for the last two years due to the pandemic, this year’s ceremony will be held April 11 at 7pm in the Dalhousie Student Union Building McInnis Room. (This also means that theatrical productions from both 2020 and 2021 are included in the list of nominees, instead of just works from the last calendar year).
Neptune’s 2021 season-opener Fully Committed was salvaged from its script's shortcomings thanks to actor Breton Lalama—an effort that was rewarded with Lalama earning a spot in the running for Outstanding Performance in a Leading Role. They’ll be up against fellow Haligonians Jacob Sampson (for his turn in Shakespeare By The Sea’s Midsummer Night’s Dream), Allister MacDonald (Neptune’s Alice In Pantoland); Anne-Marie Kerr (whose nightmare-fuel performance as Professor Galbraith in Footnotes: an Evening of 3 Short Plays by Hannah Moscovitch decimated me when I watched it last September) and Deborah Castrilli for her turn as Viola Desmond in Neptune’s 2020 show Controlled Damage. Additionally, longtime scene staple Home First Theatre saw two leading actors from its latest performance, The December Man, up for the award: Martha Irving and Hugh Thompson.
Stevey Hunter’s Fat Juliet—the body-positive adaptation of Romeo & Juliet that was one of my favourite plays throughout the pandemic—scooped up a whopping 12 nominations: Peter Sarty and Nathan Simmons (playing Romeo and Tybalt, respectively) are up for Outstanding Performance in a Supporting Role and the play is in the running for Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble, Outstanding New Nova Scotia Play, Outstanding Choreography, Outstanding Original Score or Composition, Outstanding Sound Design, Outstanding Lighting Design, Outstanding Projection Design, Outstanding Scenic Design, Outstanding Production and Outstanding Direction.
Hannah Moscovitch—Halifax’s most decorated playwright and recent Governor General award winner—is nominated for two Outstanding Independent Productions, including the evening of her early works Matchstick Theatre put on last fall. Zuppa Theatre’s groundbreaking, inclusion-minded At This Hour—a vital retelling of the Halifax explosion that created an experience using blind and deaf actors, with blind and deaf audiences in mind—is up for five Merritts, including Outstanding New Nova Scotian Play. Aaron Collier’s genre-bending, drag-infused work at HEIST Live Art sees the theatre maker nominated across seven categories.
Notably missing from the nomination list was Keep Good Theatre’s August 2021 world premiere of the Adventures, a play written by Gillian Clark and starring actor Ann-Marie Kerr that was simply transcendent.
The full list of nominations can be read on Theatre Nova Scotia’s website.