MINNEAPOLIS and ST. PAUL, MINN.: The Ivey Awards have been celebrating theatre in the Twin Cities for the past 13 years. But on Feb. 28, the organization announced that it will discontinue producing the annual awards event due to difficulty raising funds.
Scott Mayer, who runs his own events consulting business, established the Awards in 2005 to tout the accomplishments of the many theatre companies in Minneapolis and St. Paul. Last year, the event recognized 84 theatre companies in the region.
“After I was in the Twin Cities for a few years, I recognized that not every city was able to lay claim to having such phenomenal theatre assets as the Twin Cities did,” said Mayer last week. “I was amazed that the community did nothing to celebrate that—I don’t know whether that was in part to a Midwestern modesty, or just no one taking up the mantle.”
So Mayer picked up the torch, enlisting the help of American Express and other local businesses to help shine a light on the culture in the area. Funding also came from ticket buyers for the event, who were primarily members of the public.
Mayer claimed that the Ivey Awards were the most-attended theatre awards event after Broadway’s Tony Awards, as they often filled the 2,100-seat State Theatre in Minneapolis to capacity. In addition to inviting the community to rub elbows with their favorite onstage performers, the awards highlighted some of the unsung heroes behind the curtain with its Emerging Artist Award.
“We were really able to put in the spotlight individuals who were just starting out in their careers, and feature people who might kind of escape the spotlight if it weren’t for the Ivey Awards,” said Mayer. “We were able to feature set designers, clothing designers, and technical artists who often don’t get the public recognition that actors do.”
With no categories or nominations, the event was more collegial than competitive. Voluntary evaluators from the general community signed on to see productions throughout the year. Six of the 120 volunteers saw every show that was produced, and they would recognize the standout productions and performances from a crop of nearly 1,200 shows.
“Some years maybe there were two actresses that deserved recognition, or three wardrobe designers, some years there were lighting designers, some years there weren’t,” said Mayer. The awards were “based on what was viewed as being exemplary in that year.”
Looking back, Mayer pointed to the 10th awards ceremony as a memorable event. For the decade celebration, the organization invited the first 10 recipients of the annual Lifetime Achievement Award, and commissioned the company In the Heart of the Beast to create puppets for each of the honorees.
“We featured each of the recipients onstage with their likenesses, and what was so moving for me was that, one, we had this phenomenal talent all on one stage together, and secondly that everyone was alive to continue to be celebrated by their peers,” said Mayer.
“The Ivey Awards have been a fantastic celebration of Twin Cities theatre for so many years,” says Jeffrey Meanza, associate artistic director for the Guthrie Theater. “It was a chance to honor our colleagues’ great work throughout the year, all with an incredible spirit of fun. Scott Mayer has been an incredible leader and entrepreneur, and we’re all going to miss getting dressed up and celebrating with this amazing community of artists, makers, funders, and theatergoers.”
Kimberly Motes, managing director of Children’s Theatre Company, adds: “The Ivey Awards was a wonderful way to bring the theatre community together and shine a spotlight on the rich talent in the Twin Cities.”
“Before I started the awards, I had the assumption that theatre people got together all the time,” said Mayer. But he soon realized that the performers and behind-the-scenes workers were a busy cohort. “Mostly, they are working three jobs, they are acting, they are bartending, they have a day job, and so people didn’t have the opportunity to get together and say, ‘Hey, we are a pretty awesome group.’”
For more than a decade the Ivey Awards provided a space to do just that, and Mayer hopes the celebratory spirit of the awards will continue—somehow—to live on in the community.