Though Toronto theatre fans have to wait until June 24 for the results, when it comes to nominations, Buddies in Bad Times has swept the Dora Awards. Twenty-one nods went to four different productions gracing the company’s stage this past season.
Newcomer Tawiah M’Carthy’s Obaaberima was recognized for Outstanding Production, Direction and New Play. Blending traditional African storytelling with contemporary movement, the piece tells the story of a young Ghanaian immigrant in a Canadian prison on the eve of his release.
“I had to check the email three times to make sure I wasn’t dreaming,” M’Carthy laughs. “When I started working on the piece in Buddies’ youth program in 2008, I wasn’t thinking it would ever be a main-stage show. I was just trying to create something where I could play multiple characters to develop my performance technique. I got out of theatre school knowing I was a young African gay man with an accent I can’t really get rid of onstage. That meant if I wanted to keep performing I needed to start creating my own work. The fact it was so successful was a complete surprise, but a welcome one.”
For his part, writer/director Alistair Newton seems equally shocked with the honours piled on his show Of a Monstrous Child: A Gaga Musical. Like M’Carthy’s work, the piece had a long development history with Buddies, which started under previous artistic director David Oiye.
“It’s nice to be recognized by a community of fellow theatre practitioners because you know they really understand what you’re trying to do, as well as all the challenges and sacrifices associated with doing it,” Newtown says. “Buddies took such a huge risk on this show and on me as an artist. It turned out we had a sold-out run, but it’s equally possible it could have been a disaster. I honestly would not exist as an artist if it wasn’t for this company, and there are a lot of other artists who can say the same thing. The number of nominations for the company this year demonstrates there’s something really profound going on there.”
Buddies head honcho Brendan Healy is thrilled with the success, though he hasn’t had much time to think about it. Already in rehearsals for his production of Entertaining Mr Sloane with Soulpepper this summer, he wasn’t able to attend the announcement and learned of the nominations via text message during a break. In addition to the other productions, Healy’s staging of Daniel MacIvor’s Arigato, Tokyo was acknowledged for Production and New Play, along with Healy’s nomination for Direction.
“My personal nod is nice, but the recognition for the whole season gives me immense pleasure,” he says. “We had pieces from younger artists [M’Carthy and Newton] that represented a really fresh take on storytelling and works from more established artists [MacIvor and Sky Gilbert, whose play A Few Brittle Leaves garnered three Dora nods] that marked major departures in their work. The nominations show our peers want to celebrate a company taking those kinds of risks.”