The Canadian Theatre Critics Association (CTCA) has announced the winners of the 2023 Nathan Cohen Awards for Excellence in Critical Writing, including five writers from Intermission.
There are three awards categories: outstanding review, outstanding critical essay, and outstanding emerging critic.
This year’s awards for outstanding review and critical essay were adjudicated by American theatre critic Linda Winer, while the award for outstanding emerging critic was chosen by J. Kelly Nestruck and Barbara Gabriel, winners at last year’s awards.
Outstanding review: This award celebrates outstanding achievement in a written or verbal review of a particular production or productions by a Canada-based writer.
The 2023 recipient of the Nathan Cohen Award for outstanding review is Ilana Lucas for her review of Anosh Irani’s Behind the Moon at Tarragon Theatre, published by Intermission.
Lucas has elected to donate her prize money to The Actor’s Fund of Canada in memory of Robin Breon, co-founder of CTCA precursor the Toronto Drama Bench and longtime CTCA board member.
The 2023 runners-up for the Nathan Cohen Award for outstanding review are J. Kelly Nestruck for his review of the Mirvish run of The Land Acknowledgement, or As You Like It, published in The Globe and Mail, along with Intermission senior editor Aisling Murphy for her review of The Master Plan at Crow’s Theatre.
In her notes on the winners, Winer described Lucas’ review as possessing “heartfelt, almost excruciating understanding” in its analysis of Irani’s play. “Not only do we feel the stale allure of the food and emotions in this Toronto Indian restaurant, but we are also shown how this chamber piece fits into broader concerns of the Tarragon Theatre’s season — concerns that reverberate across the globe.”
“[Nestruck’s] blazingly perceptive review of Cliff Cardinal’s solo manages both knotty comic analysis and clear-eyed political savvy,” she wrote of the critic’s review.
Meanwhile, of Murphy’s piece, she asked: “Have municipal reporting and theatre insight ever been so absurd and essential at the same time?”
Outstanding critical essay: This award celebrates outstanding achievement in a piece of critical writing by a Canada-based writer outside of the traditional review format. This may include features, interviews, trend pieces, editorials, and article series written from a critical perspective.
The winner of the 2023 Nathan Cohen Award for outstanding critical essay is Jamie Robinson for his essay “The Conscious-Casting Conundrum,” published by Canadian Theatre Review.
The 2023 runner-up for the Nathan Cohen Award for outstanding critical essay is Aisling Murphy for her essay “We Hired an AI Theatre Critic,” published by Intermission.
“What a splendidly thoughtful, personal and far-reaching exploration of the tangles of diversity casting,” wrote Winer of Robinson’s essay. “[Robinson] asks hard, uncomfortable questions in readable ways while making us feel we could possibly be part of some answers.”
Winer called Murphy’s essay “a seriously funny lesson about the unfunny threats of artificial intelligence.”
Outstanding emerging critic: This award celebrates outstanding achievement by a Canada-based writer who has been practising theatre criticism for less than three years, either professionally, non-professionally, or in a training context. This award includes an internship at Intermission and the opportunity to publish reviews and long-form pieces for the publication.
The recipient of the 2023 Nathan Cohen Award for outstanding emerging critic is Stephanie Fung for their review of the SummerWorks Performance Festival.
The runners-up for the 2023 Nathan Cohen Award for outstanding emerging critic are Emily Radcliffe for her article “A love letter to three Black performers in King Lear at the Stratford Festival,” along with Columbia Roy for her review of Kole Dunford’s Echo at the Next Stage Theatre Festival. All three articles were published by Intermission.
Below are the notes of praise, provided jointly by Nestruck and Gabriel:
“When we got on the phone to discuss this year’s entries, Stephanie Fung’s omnibus review from the most recent SummerWorks Festival in Toronto was at the top of both of our lists, making their selection as this year’s outstanding emerging critic a simple task.
It is not so simple to write a readable succession of short, succinct and smart reviews of programming as varied as a staged reading, a piece of Ballroom-infused performance art, and a symposium. But Fung did — and, borrowing a phrase from their praise of one of the shows they reviewed, did so in a way that was “incredibly well-paced and layered.”
Emily Radcliffe and Columbia Roy were selected as close runners-up.
In her “A love letter to three Black performers in King Lear at the Stratford Festival,” Radcliffe powerfully described the creative relay between three highly accomplished Black actors in King Lear and their “skin-folk” in the audience; its strength lies in an unabashed first-person voice.
In her review of Kole Dunford’s Echo, Roy drew readers in immediately with a sexy, cinematic lede, before exploring the themes of this retelling of the Greek myth from a discerning artist-critic’s perspective, while asking beautiful questions like: “How can we reconcile our need to be truly loved with our love of self-absorption?”
All three winning entries, we learned after our selection of them, were published online in Intermission Magazine — and two of the critics were participants in that publication’s IBPOC Critics Lab, [hosted in collaboration with the Stratford Festival]. So we send a shout-out too to this evolving publication for helping critical voices emerge and giving them space to be heard.”
The Nathan Cohen Awards have been given out since 1981. A complete list of past winners may be found here.