Observations and Musings from The DORA Awards

  • Joe Szekeres, Chief Toronto Critic

I have heard of the Doras (like the Tonys in New York) and their honouring the best in Toronto drama, theatre, dance and opera; however, as a Canadian interested in the performing arts, I regretfully knew little about the award presented by TAPA (Toronto Alliance for the Performing Arts).

Thank goodness for programmes and the information they provide to a Dora newbie like me. Dora Mavor Moore, born in Glasgow in 1888, was a teacher and director who arrived in Toronto in 1896, who devoted her long life to creating theatre and theatre companies in her new home. Her vast contributions to Canadian professional theatre, according to the programme, are vast and immeasurable.

When I was invited to attend the 40th celebration of the Doras at the Sony Centre, not only was I was ecstatic but also petrified wondering if I would be able to do the awards ceremony justice and what they represent to Canadian professional theatre.  I asked my friend, Darlene, another Dora newbie, to attend with me and she jumped at the opportunity because, like me, she knew of them and the ceremony but nothing else.

I had no idea what to expect when we entered the Sony Centre on Tuesday June 25 and neither did Darlene, but we were game for anything and everything.

And we were not disillusioned in the least. If anything, we learned a great deal more about the professional theatre scene in Toronto.

Actor Rick Miller (‘BOOM’ ‘BOOM X’, ‘The Simpsons do MacBeth’ and a long list of credentials) was the emcee for the evening and what a helluva introduction to the ceremony. He was in terrific form and fine voice for the celebration (even though he called himself a middle-aged man – he still looks great, can sing and the voices he can impersonate.  Wow!)  I’ve had the opportunity to see Mr. Miller’s extraordinary performance in the three shows listed above plus his provocative work in Canadian Stage’s ‘Venus In Fur’ several years ago.  He didn’t disappoint in these performances, and he was not a disappointment whatsoever as the emcee.  He kept the two hour and forty-five-minute pacing moving along beautifully.

From what I could gather through Mr. Miller’s opening night welcoming song before the awards ceremony began, the theme of the evening was all about change.  We were able to see a prototype of the new Dora award that will be sent to the evening’s recipients later.

Yes, the Dora has changed and rightfully so.

 A line from Mr. Miller’s opening night song about change resonated with me: “Time may change me, but we can’t change time.” This 40th celebration was the beginning of change in the gender inclusive awards.  Therefore, there is now no division between performances of male and female. Instead, there is recognition in such categories as ‘Outstanding Performance of an Individual in Dance’ ‘Outstanding Performance in a Featured Role’.  As one of the recipients pointed out halfway through the ceremony, there must be an award to recognize Stage Managers and the work they do. Yes, yes and yes.

There was a touching IN MEMORIAM song Mr. Miller also sang in recognition of those individuals and artists who have now passed and gone before us. Once again, this was important to me as I hadn’t realized the number of administrators, philanthropists, supporters along with the artists who have brought attention to the Dora. Again, my friend Darlene and I, two newbies, had no idea of the supporters behind the scenes.

I was also pleased to have reviewed several of the productions which were recognized.  Congratulations to The Coal Mine Theatre, Theatre Passe Muraille, Canadian Stage Soulpepper and Mirvish Productions for some outstanding wins and nominations.  I couldn’t have agreed more with the selections made from those productions I saw.  If anything, this event reminded me that I am hoping to be invited to see a few more of these terrific companies in action.

A couple of things emerged that didn’t sit right with me, nevertheless. I didn’t get a chance to read Globe and Mail Entertainment Critic Kelly Nestruck’s comments about the fact the celebration is normally held on Mondays as the theatres are dark and more of the artists can attend. Holding the ceremony on Tuesday meant that several recipients were unable to be there for various reasons. Something to consider for next year to ensure that more recipients could attend. It also didn’t feel right if the presenter had to accept an award when there were shouts from the audience stating the recipient was on their way down to the podium.  Double checking to ensure that doesn’t happen again, perhaps?

If my friend Darlene and I had to give our comments about our evening at the Doras -vibrant, flashy, eclectic mixture of stylistic fashions and an affectionate crowd.  As we sat down in our seats and people were passing us to get to their seats, Darlene heard one of the attendees say, “My goodness people are so kind and welcoming here.”

We need to hear that statement more and more.