Minnesota’s theater community celebrates 11th Annual Ivey Awards

African American actors in Minnesota were well represented at this year’s 11th Annual Ivey Awards, held September 21 at the State Theatre in downtown Minneapolis.

From opening to close, the Iveys never missed a beat, with a variety of action on and off the stage. Pre-show activities outside on Hennepin Ave. constantly stopped traffic, and had people rolling down their car windows to ask, “What’s going on tonight?” One woman dressed in a formal gown walking towards the red carpet replied with excitement, “Haven’t you heard? It’s Ivey Awards night!”

One might get the impression that prom season came early or a slice of Broadway or Hollywood came to Minnesota, with so many flashing bulbs and people dressed up on the crowded red carpet. The festivities also included live entertainment, after parties, and two pre-show VIP receptions at the Le Méridien Chambers Hotel — one for adults and the other for preteen and teen actors.

Before a sold out theater-loving audience, local actress/singer Regina Marie Williams co-hosted the Ivey awards with actress/singer Christina Baldwin. Williams and Baldwin’s musical opening number charmed and humored an already fired up audience, and set the stage for a smooth and flawless evening with no gaps or pauses in production.

Minnesota is nationally recognized for its thriving theater community. In 2004, the Ivey Awards were established with the primary objective of celebrating and increasing awareness of the 78 professional theaters in Minnesota. The Iveys are known throughout the country for having a unique format compared to other awards shows. The show has only two predetermined award categories: Emerging Artist and Lifetime Achievement.

Up-and-coming actor Mikell Sapp received the Emerging Artist Award. He gave an emotional thank you to his parents, and said that he couldn’t have done it without their support. “We did it!” said Sapp, as he held up his Ivey before leaving the podium.

This year, Twin Cities theater legend Joe Dowling — the artistic director of the Guthrie Theater for the last 20 years — received the Lifetime Achievement Award for his impact on Minnesota and the theater community.

Actress Austine Van and Actor James Craven (Thurgood) both performed vignettes during the entertainment portion of show. Actress Sha’ Cage won an Ivey for her work in the play Grounded.

Lastly, the cast of the Pillsbury House Theatre production of Marcus; or the Secret of Sweet won an Ivey for Best Ensemble. The predominately Black cast included James A. Williams and Mikell Sapp, just to name a few. The play was written by playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney and directed by Obie Award-winning director Marion Mclinton.

The MSR briefly spoke with Sapp after his win. The critically-acclaimed actor — who received his theater training at Alabama State University, and arrived in Minnesota three years ago —  told the MSR he’s an understudy for The Children’s Theatre Company’s (CTC) upcoming production of The Jungle Book, and in January he’ll star in CTC’s The Snowy Day.

When asked what it meant to win the Emerging Artist Award Sapp said, “I’m from a small town in Phoenix City, Alabama. It lets you know that anything is possible and real dreams can come true.”


The 11th Annual Ivey Awards will air locally Sunday, September 27, from 7-9 pm CT on The CW, Channel 23.  Go here for a full list of this year’s winners.


 James L. Stroud, Jr welcomes reader responses to jlswriter@gmail.com.

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