‘Sizwe Banzi is Dead’, ‘Great Comet’ lead Dora Mavor Moore Awards nominations

TORONTO — A play about the struggle for survival in apartheid-era South Africa has garnered a leading seven nominations in the general theatre division at the Dora Mavor Moore Awards, which this year have fundamentally shifted thanks to the absence of Toronto's largest production company.

Nominations for Soulpepper Theatre Company’s “Sizwe Banzi is Dead” include best production, best direction, and a best individual performance nod to actor Amaka Umeh.

Other plays up for the best production award include Crow Theatre’s “The Master Plan” and “Bad Roads,” Canadian Stage’s “The Inheritance Part 1,” and “Three Sisters,” a co-production from Soulpepper and the Obsidian Theatre Company.

Mirvish Productions plays are notably absent from this year’s nominations, after the industry giant opted not to renew its membership with the Toronto Alliance for the Performing Arts – a requirement under Dora Awards’ eligibility criteria -- in October 2023.

Mirvish says it stepped away from TAPA because it was the only commercial theatre company in an organization that primarily represents non-profit companies.

“At one time there were quite a few commercial producers in town, so we didn’t feel like we were off on our own,” Mirvish spokesman John Karastamatis said.

TAPA's executive director said Mirvish's departure will bolster the non-profit theatre sector, which was hard hit during the pandemic.

“Our sector is still very much in recovery,” Jacoba Knaapen said.

Mirvish’s exclusion from the awards means its mega-popular musical “Six” didn’t make the list of nominees.

The Musical Stage Company's "Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812" leads the musical theatre category with 10 nominations. The adaptation of a portion of Leo Tolstoy's "War & Peace" is in the running for awards including best production, best ensemble performance and four nods for best individual performance.

Soulpepper’s “De Profundis: Oscar Wilde in Jail” and The Musical Stage Company’s “Kelly v. Kelly” are the next leading contenders in musical theatre, with six nominations each.

Knaapen said Mirvish's absence from the contenders didn't significantly change the nomination process -- 197 productions were still eligible, and TAPA announced 228 nominations.

The awards will be handed out June 24 at Toronto's Elgin and Winter Garden Theatre Centre.

Mirvish is also not ruling out returning to the performing arts association in the future.

“We just thought we would get out of the way and let the majority of companies do what they do,” Karastamatis said.

“When things change, we’re happy to go back in.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 28, 2024

Alex Goudge, The Canadian Press