Like all award shows, the annual Doras are a case of artists congratulating themselves, and of organizations celebrating their sponsored arts. Like most award shows, too, the Doras are largely an insider-job, with shoptalk and inside jokes the order of the day. No one at TAPA seems to know, however, how to fix the numerous intrinsic problems associated with both the awards themselves and the show. Each year, the judges’ choices for nominees is controversial, with startling omissions from the final lists. Each year, the longueurs grow longer, presenting mighty challenges to an audience member’s tolerance for lame monologues (usually by hosts who can’t resist talking about themselves), inarticulate winners, incessant partisan yelps or screams (overwhelming the announcement of nominees), and the sheer lack of broadcast-worthy dance and song numbers, or scenes excerpted from contending shows. At the Elgin Theatre, this year was no exception.
Host Raoul Bhaneja loves jazz and blues, and he can play a fairly mean harmonica with his band The Big Time, that supplied good music for much of the evening. But Bhaneja’s anecdotes lacked pungency and fell a little flat, as did many of the presenters, especially the ones who were largely inaudible. The evening wore on and on, with masses of the audience walking out and re-entering for much-needed bathroom or bar breaks, and the partisan factions grew in their assaults on the ear and patience. As usual, there were plenty of surprises—as can always be expected when subjective taste comes into play—but there were times when incredulity was the only plausible reaction to some of the winners.
For me, before I decided that my ears, mind, and gluteus maximus could take no more of an evening that seemed to labour on about twice as long as the Oscars and with only a tenth of real entertainment, highlights included the well-deserved standing ovation for Jackie Richardson (the Big Mama of blues, and a genuine sweetie), emotional tributes to the late Jon Kaplan, Ngozi Paul’s genuine shock and elation at having won for Outstanding New Play (The Emancipation of Ms. Lovely) that progressed from a breathless “Thank you so much, everybody!” to her foot-stamping howling realization that there was a real cash award along with the Dora trophy. I loved Maev Beaty’s acceptance speech (Outstanding Female Performance for The Last Wife), in which she catalogued various “useful” people for thanks, culminating in her husband, and cheered the awards to Come From Away, clearly the best Canadian musical of all time. But the most ironically poignant moment for me was Nora McLellan’s acceptance speech. A surprise winner for John (Outstanding Female Performance in Independent Theatre), she put her finger on the meaningless of theatre awards when the winning of one never guarantees future work. She joins a long list of multiple-Dora winners who are too long between jobs. Something, I hope but somehow doubt, that TAPA administrators were considering while celebrating with pizza, dips, hot dogs, French fries, doughnuts, salads, and Haagen-Dazs ice cream at the post-Dora party.
For the record, Soulpepper’s haul in awards totalled 5; Mirvish nabbed 3; and Tapestry Opera scored 5 wins.