It was already Meghan Kreidler's night before she took the State Theatre stage to accept the coveted Ivey Award as this year's honored Emerging Artist.
The powerhouse performer was up there early on to accept an Ivey as a member of the Mixed Blood Vietgone ensemble, and she subsequently wowed the crowd with a solo rap from that show. The Emerging Artist award capped a remarkable, busy year for the actor, who also fronts local rock band Kiss the Tiger.
"Thank you for letting me take ownership of who I am," she said to Theater Mu, the company she called "my first home" on local stages. She added, "Screw fear!" The latter sentiment was in keeping with the spirit of a night where -- as has been the case in recent national award ceremonies -- the Trump administration was a constant point of reference and disdain, while never being explicitly called out.
The lifetime achievement Ivey went to Michelle Hensley, who's about to retire as founder and artistic director of Ten Thousand Things. She garnered waves of applause, first for her remarkable achievement in creating a nationally-noted model for bringing theater to underserved audiences and then for her call to increase the number of women leading local theater companies.
After a realization that "I was going to have to make my own place" as a woman making theater at the start of her career, in the 1980s, Hensley noted that there will be some prominent vacancies atop local companies over the next several years. "Most of those positions need to be filled by women," she said to emphatic cheers, "and the majority need to be women of color."
As in past years, the Ivey evaluators were over the moon for Theater Latté Da. The company's Ragtime took an Overall Excellence award, and their Six Degrees of Separation was honored for the technical design and execution of a show that, among other nice touches, incorporated original works by local artists into its set depicting a luxury apartment in New York City.
Mixed Blood was also doubly honored. In addition to the award for the Vietgone acting ensemble, the West Bank company won an Ivey for their unusual and absorbing Safe at Home, a baseball play staged at CHS Field. (At that announcement the house band, led by Latté Da's Denise Prosek, swung into John Fogerty's "Centerfield.")
Pillsbury House was a third company earning two Iveys. Nilaja Sun took an Ivey for her powerhouse solo performance in Pike Street. Noël Raymond also won, in absentia, for directing Pillsbury House's The Children.
The remaining Iveys were spread entirely among relatively small companies, with none of the megaphone-shaped awards going to the Guthrie, the Jungle, or Park Square Theatre. The Guthrie's Joseph Haj and the Jungle's Sarah Rasmussen both appeared as presenters, though, cementing the evening's sense of solidarity and goodwill.
Steven Epp, whose Moving Company engendered a wave of controversy for its Refugia at the Guthrie this year, won an Ivey for his uncontroversial and excellent performance in Ten Thousand Things' Fiddler on the Roof. "I just want to apologize to people who actually know how to sing and do musicals," said Epp after he caught his breath from the long jog to the stage.
Additional acting honors went to Sun Mee Chomet and Sherwin Resurreccion, for carrying Mu's intimate two-hander The Two Kids That Blow Shit Up. "Sherwin's probably at the bar," joked Chomet, accepting the Ivey alone.
Artistry's Wit took an Ivey for "emotional impact," although star Sally Wingert wasn't available to join her colleagues in accepting the award. A near-speechless Benjamin McGovern, who directed the show, did his best in her absence.
This year's Iveys were the first to be held since founder Scott Mayer stepped down, but there were no tributes to him, as the focus of the big show — among American theater award ceremonies, only the Tonys draw more attendees — remained on the artists. The absence of the detail-oriented Mayer was felt in a few spots. For example, the awards' Twitter account, which typically live-tweets the show, has been silent since March 12 ("Good for #surdyks").
A radiant Thomasina Petrus and a comically shambling Mark Benninghofen hosted, with Petrus taking the mic for a memorial medley that may have marked the first time Billie Holiday's "I'll Be Seeing You" has ever been mashed up with Bon Jovi's "It's My Life."
In a moving final touch, the hosts and a range of performers joined the young cast of Stages Theatre Company's Stone Soup, after that show's "Build a Feast," for a culminating performance of "You Will Be Found" from Dear Evan Hansen.
At ceremony's close, child actor Alejandro Vega flipped the switch on a single light. That's a stage tradition and, in this case, a public nod to the Ghostlight Project, a nationwide initiative of solidarity among theaters resisting discrimination and marginalization in our precipitous political moment. It was a welcome reminder that, while you win some and you don't win some, ultimately we're all in this together.