2020 Non-Equity Jeff Award Nominees Announced Amid Darkness of Pandemic

David Goodloe, center, with Lewon Johns, back left, and Michael Turrentine in Griffin Theatre Company’s Midwest premiere of “Mlima’s Tale.” (Photo by Michael Brosilow)David Goodloe, center, with Lewon Johns, back left, and Michael Turrentine in Griffin Theatre Company’s Midwest premiere of “Mlima’s Tale.” (Photo by Michael Brosilow)

There is something undeniably rueful about Tuesday’s announcement of the Non-Equity Jeff Award nominees for excellence in Chicago theater during the 2019-2020 season.

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On the one hand, the list of nominations is a vivid reminder of the exuberance of pre-pandemic times on Chicago stages. On the other, it suggests what has been lost in a season that, in mid-March, came to a sudden and altogether unprecedented halt as the coronavirus onslaught resulted in the premature closing of a number of productions in mid-run, as well as the total cancellation of others that were in various stages of pre-production, rehearsal, previews or on the very brink of an opening night. 

The nominations list also tacitly raises these questions: How many of these small and midsize companies — some of which have been in existence for decades, others that are relative newcomers, and all operating on the edge even in the best of times — will be able to sustain the financial hit experienced and begin to start up again? And, will these crucial theatrical showcases be able to rebuild their audiences and continue to provide jobs (no matter how modest in terms of salary) for the many actors, directors, musicians and designers who embody the very essence of Chicago storefront theater?

In the meantime, to borrow a few lyrics from Stephen Sondheim (whose 90th birthday was toasted in grand style Sunday evening with a star-studded “virtual collage” streamed on the internet), a theater community should “celebrate everything passing by.” So here is a list of the nominees in the top categories — drawn from 44 productions by 31 non-Equity companies, with Griffin Theatre garnering the most nominations (10), followed by Jackalope Theatre Company (with nine), Lifeline Theatre (with eight), and BoHo Theatre, Pride Films and Plays, Red Tape Theatre and Underscore Theatre (with seven each). 

For a complete rundown of the nominees visit jeffawards.org.

Production, Play:

The cast of “All Quiet on the Western Front” at Red Tape Theatre. (Credit: Austin Oie)The cast of “All Quiet on the Western Front” at Red Tape Theatre. (Credit: Austin Oie)

— “All Quiet on the Western Front” (Red Tape Theatre).

— “First Love Is the Revolution” (Steep Theatre).

— “Middle Passage” (Lifeline Theatre).

— “Mlima’s Tale” (Griffin Theatre).

— “P.Y.G or The Misedumacation of Dorian Belle” (Jackalope Theatre).

— “The Undeniable Sound of Right Now” (Raven Theatre).


Production, Musical:

From left, front: Amanda Raquel Martinez, Alexander Ellsworth and Rachel Guth with TJ Anderson, center back, in “Ghost Quartet.” (Photo by Cole Simon)From left, front: Amanda Raquel Martinez, Alexander Ellsworth and Rachel Guth with TJ Anderson, center back, in “Ghost Quartet.” (Photo by Cole Simon)

— “The Ballad of Lefty & Crabbe” (Underscore Theatre).

— “Big Fish” (BoHo Theatre).

— “Ghost Quartet” (Black Button Eyes Productions).

— “Head Over Heels” (Kokandy Productions).

— “Hedwig and The Angry Inch” (Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre).


Ensemble:

— “All Quiet on the Western Front” (Red Tape Theatre).

— “The Ballad of Lefty & Crabbe” (Underscore Theatre).

— “Blue Stockings” (Promethean Theatre Ensemble).

— “Emma” (Lifeline Theatre).

— “Ghost Quartet” (Black Button Eyes Productions).

— “P.Y.G. or The Misedumacation of Dorian Belle” (Jackalope Theatre).


New Work:

— Larry Todd Cousineau & Cindy O’Connor, “All That He Was” (Pride Films and Plays).

— Matt Foss, “All Quiet On the Western Front” (Red Tape Theatre).

— Sam Kebede, “EthiopianAmerica” (Definition Theatre Company).

— Jillian Leff & Joe Lino, “Small World” (The New Colony).

— Kenneth Lin, “Life On Paper” (Jackalope Theatre).

Note: A virtual celebration of the award winners will be held on Monday, June 8, and will serve as a tribute to the many companies and artists who are facing what is sure to be the long-term fallout from the pandemic. Specific details about this free program will be announced in early June.

Follow Hedy Weiss on Twitter: @HedyWeissCritic


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