The Conda Awards for 2017 were held at Wests Leagues Club- Starlight Room on Saturday the 2nd of December and another wonderful night of celebrating the theatre year was had.
Greg Paterson, a musician and musical director who has helped to develop the talents of countless singers, actors, and band and orchestra members of all ages in the Hunter Region over several decades, has received his own deserved reward.
He was named as the recipient of the 2017 CONDA Inc Award for Outstanding Contribution and Achievement in Newcastle Theatre at Saturday’s awards night, after earlier receiving the trophy for Musical Director or Vocal Director for his audience-riveting work with a large orchestra on the Metropolitan Players’ musical Les Miserables, a story set against a student-led revolt aimed at ending a dictatorship in France in the early 19th century.
Greg Paterson announced after the show’s season that he is retiring from theatre work, but musical theatre fans will undoubtedly continue to recall their rapt reactions to the results he achieved with orchestras that generally included between 20 and 30 musicians. He previously won CONDAs for his musical direction of two other Metropolitan shows, Shout! in 2007, and The Phantom of the Opera in 2013.
The CONDA judges – Shane Bransdon, Michael Cooper, Michelle Gosper, Carl Gregory and Ken Longworth – said Greg Paterson had been a supportive mentor and teacher to thousands of emerging artists through his role as musical director of the annual public schools event Star Struck from 1998 to 2007. Throughout his career, he had volunteered as a piano accompanist, vocal director and conductor for most musical theatre companies in Newcastle, working on shows ranging from musicals such as Wicked, cabaret-style events including Ultra Swing Lounge, and the CONDA Awards ceremony. He had been a player and conductor in or on virtually every orchestra pit and stage in Newcastle, and was highly respected for dedicating a lifetime to the development of young performers throughout the region.
Greg Paterson’s Musical Director or Vocal Director Award this year drew praise from the judges for giving the music “formidable strength and beautifully layered consideration”.
The strength of Newcastle musical theatre was recognised in this year’s awards with seven diverse musical works receiving trophies.
Two school musical productions were among the seven, with the St Philip’s Christian College staging of Mary Poppins at the Civic Theatre winning five trophies, including Best Musical Production, and Hunter School of the Performing Arts taking one, with Catch Me If You Can.
The other musicals, as well as Les Miserables, were Rent (Pantseat Performing Arts), Seussical KIDS (Hunter Drama), Cats:Abridged (Young People’s Theatre), and Don Giovanni (Opera Hunter).
The judges noted that Mary Poppins, which shows how a broom-flying governess helps to resolve a family’s problems, was “boundlessly colourful and exceptionally realised, presenting an impressively strong ensemble that capably matched the high demands of the imaginative and energetic production” and “effortlessly ferried audiences between worlds of magic and mirth without compromising on spirited performances, or impressive production details”.
The musical’s other trophies were for: Director (Musical), Robert Stuart; Ensemble Acting; Choreographer, Eva-Marie Irwin and Natalie Baker; and Lighting and Audio Visual Design, Lyndon Buckley. Stuart was praised for “establishing a mesmerising fusion of ensemble and core cast, without sacrificing the whimsy and wondrousness that characterised the production”, the young ensemble was noted as “fully realising the endless effervescence and effortless wonder of the source material”, the choreography was applauded for being “infectious and energetic” and “injecting fun and magic into the musical numbers”, and the lighting was applauded for instilling “a beautiful juxtaposition between the magical world of Mary and the comparative realism of the family members’ lives”.
The Pantseat production of Rent won awards for two of its leads, with Liam Bird and Konstanze Koedam named respectively for Excellence by a Male Actor in a Musical and Excellence by a Female Actor in a Musical. The story is set among New York people trying to get work as entertainers. The judges said that Liam Bird “excellently balanced his character’s inner melancholy against the energetic and emotional outer drama surrounding him”, and praised Konstanze Koedam for “transitioning between animalistic sensuality and achingly human vulnerability” in a “captivating, dynamic, and achingly sympathetic” manner.
Tristan Entwhistle won the award for Excellence by a Male Actor in a Supporting Role for his performance as the sidekick of the womanising title character in Don Giovanni. His commendation noted that he provided “light-hearted comic relief without compromising a robust and skilful operatic performance”. Declan Dowling was the recipient of the Excellence by a Male Actor Under 18 trophy for his role in Catch Me If You Can as an FBI agent trying to capture a con man and prove that he’s a crook. The judges said he “showcased a skill beyond his years, with all sides of his performance presented in a unified, energetic and engaging manner”.
Melanie Hunt collected the Excellence in Costume Design CONDA for Seussical KIDS, with the citation noting that she had “established a visual feast, vividly realising the imaginary fantasy world of Dr Seuss”. And Claire Thomas’s make-up for Cats: Abridged won her the Excellence in Hair, Make-Up and Wigs trophy, with the judges praising her work as “lovingly detailed, with every cat in the production individually distinguished and elaborately defined through skilful use of make-up”.
The Best Dramatic Production CONDA went to Newcastle Theatre Company’s Picnic, a comedy-drama that shows how a holiday weekend community picnic in a small United States rural town impacts on the lives of the people living there. The citation described the show as “a whirlwind of emotional resonance, marrying earnest drama with a wondrously spirited sense of humour”, and with the performances and production values making it “an utterly captivating and impactful drama”.
One of the Picnic actors, Alison Cox, won the award for Excellence by a Female Actor in a Supporting Role. She played a very demanding teacher, and the judges noted that she “executed abrupt and dramatic emotional shifts with deft skill and believability, while also engendering significant audience sympathy”.
Another double CONDA winner was Maitland Repertory Theatre’s The Diary of Anne Frank, with directors Guil Noronha and Lesley Coombes collecting the trophy for Excellence by a Director, Drama or Comedy. Noronha also won the award for Excellence in Set and Props Design for the set which showed the small multi-level attic area of the Amsterdam office building where Jewish people hid from Nazi officials during World War II. The citation notes that it had “tightly focused and beautifully considered direction” which contributed to it being an “overwhelmingly impactful drama”. Noronha’s set was seen to be an “impressively authentic and detailed reproduction of the spaces that the Frank family occupied in their final days” so that it became “an additional character”.
Mathew Lee won the award for Excellence by a Male Actor in a Leading Role in a Drama or Comedy for his role in Knock and Run Theatre’s Grace as the male half of a married couple who move to a Florida beach town with the aim of setting up a religious organisation. The judges said Lee’s performance was “carefully considered and altogether electric” as he helped take the audience “on an overwhelming emotional journey”.
The CONDA for Excellence by a Female Actor in a Leading Role in a Drama or Comedy went to Katy Carruthers who played a sharply worded defence counsel in Newcastle Theatre Company’s court-room drama Inherit the Wind. The judges described her performance as “powerfully empathetic and impassioned”, while at the same time “maintaining a distinct and believable presence”.
Alexandra Jensen collected the award for Excellence by a Female Actor Under 18 for her role in The Crucible, staged by Lindsay Street Players in association with Young People’s Theatre. She played a young maid who makes false accusations of immoral behaviour against a former employer. The award citation said she delivered “a powerfully nuanced and incredibly dextrous portrayal”.
The Excellence in Sound Design CONDA went to Huw Jones, for his “imaginative and wonderfully distinct contribution to the atmosphere and audience engagement” in Home, staged by Tantrum Youth Arts, in collaboration with Sydney group PACT. The show had “an eclectic mix of sounds and music”, reflecting the diverse emotions the 11 performers had in relation to the concept of “home” as a result of their experiences.
Newcastle writer Sally Davies took home the award for Best New Play or Musical Written for a Newcastle Company for her comedy Festive Spirit, which was staged by Newcastle Theatre Company. The judges viewed the work, which had family members getting together for a Christmas meal, as “engaging and relatable, bringing out the humorous absurdities and communitive spirit of the Christmas season in a whimsical fashion” and being “at all times light, lively, and fun”.
Micro Theatre Festival 2017, put together by Micro Theatre Pty Ltd, won the Best Special Theatrical Event category. The judges noted that it “provided an imaginative and varied range of scripts and performances, each of high standard” and that it was “an intimate and engaging experience”.
The CONDA Awards overall went to 15 productions and were staged by 13 companies, organisations and schools.
The awards night also saw the announcement of two CONDA Youth Ambassadors aged 18 or under, one male and one female, under a program that was introduced last year to give young performers a broader outlook on the role theatre plays in the lives of participants and community members. Eighteen applicants, all with impressive theatre credits, applied to be youth ambassadors in 2018. The new ambassadors, chosen by the CONDA judges, are Hamish Pickering, 17, and Georgia Vaughan, 16.
Hamish has been involved in theatre shows with youth theatre groups since 2012, initially as an actor and more recently also as a tutor and trainee director. Georgia, whose family lives in Armidale, moved to Newcastle this year after being accepted into Hunter School of the Performing Arts, and she also joined a youth theatre group.
The Youth Ambassador Program, supported financially by Newcastle theatre promoter Don Mitchell, enables the recipients to attend local theatre company shows on a complimentary basis, be observers at CONDA Inc meetings to learn how the organisation operates, and attend other CONDA functions and the awards ceremony. Support from the theatre industry for young performers is also given by Music Theatre International (Australasia) which sponsors the two CONDA Awards for performers aged under 18.
This year’s CONDA Awards were dedicated to the memory of five Newcastle region theatre participants who died in the past 12 months: Cindy Collins, David Grinstead, Ella Knights, Estelle Pryor, and Bob Wiles.
The City of Newcastle Drama Awards are presented by CONDA Inc
THE 2017 CONDA WINNERS
Outstanding Contribution and Achievement in Newcastle Theatre: Greg Paterson
Youth Ambassadors: Georgia Vaughan and Hamish Pickering
Dramatic Production: Picnic, Newcastle Theatre Company
Musical Production: Mary Poppins, St Philip’s Christian College
Special Theatrical Event: Micro Theatre Festival 2017, Micro Theatre Pty Ltd
New Play or Musical Written for a Newcastle Company: Festive Spirit, by Sally Davies (Newcastle Theatre Company)
Male Actor in a Leading Role in a Drama or Comedy: Mathew Lee, Grace (Knock and Run Theatre)
Female Actor in a Leading Role in a Drama or Comedy: Katy Carruthers, Inherit the Wind (Newcastle Theatre Company)
Male Actor in a Leading Role in a Musical: Liam Bird, Rent (Pantseat Performing Arts)
Female Actor in a Leading Role in a Musical: Konstanze Koedam, Rent (Pantseat Performing Arts)
Male Actor in a Supporting Role: Tristan Entwhistle, Don Giovanni (Opera Hunter)
Female Actor in a Supporting Role: Alison Cox, Picnic (Newcastle Theatre Company)
Male Actor Under 18: Declan Dowling, Catch Me If You Can (Hunter School of the Performing Arts)
Female Actor Under 18: Alexandra Jensen, The Crucible (Lindsay Street Players, in association with Young People’s Theatre)
Ensemble Acting: Mary Poppins, St Philip’s Christian College
Director (Drama or Comedy): Guil Noronha and Lesley Coombes, The Diary of Anne Frank (Maitland Repertory Theatre)
Director (Musical): Robert Stuart, Mary Poppins (St Philip’s Christian College)
Musical Director or Vocal Director: Greg Paterson, Les Miserables (Metropolitan Players)
Choreographer: Eva-Marie Irwin and Natalie Baker, Mary Poppins (St Philip’s Christian College)
Costume Design: Melanie Hunt, Seussical KIDS (Hunter Drama)
Hair, Make-up and Wigs: Claire Thomas, Cats: Abridged (Young People’s Theatre)
Set and Props Design: Guil Noronha, The Diary of Anne Frank (Maitland Repertory Theatre)
Lighting and Audio Visual Design: Lyndon Buckley, Mary Poppins (St Philip’s Christian College)
Sound Design: Huw Jones, Home (Tantrum Youth Arts, in collaboration with PACT)