Flashback: Abraham reminisces about the game-changing Siminovitch Prize

Jonathan Zagrodnik

Staff Writer

In the world of Canadian Theatre, every now and then an award comes up that can really change the game for theatre artists. One such award is the highly coveted Siminovitch Prize. This annual award honours professional writers, directors and designers with a prize of 100,000 dollars. The recipient then chooses a protégé to honour with 25,000 dollars.  The award is dedicated to scientist Lou Siminovitch and his late wife, playwright Elinore Siminovitch. The inaugural ceremony was held in 2001 and honoured Canadian theatre icon Daniel Brooks. Brooks then selected his protégé: the up-and-coming artistic director Chris Abraham.

Abraham, award-winning film director and artistic director of Crow’s Theatre, has gone from being the protégé to the master, as in 2013 he was the recipient of the Siminovitch award. 

“There was ten years between winning the protégé award and then winning the proper prize, and I wasn’t aware that I would win this prize ten years later,” says Abraham.

“The notion of a protégé winner advancing to the next level really shows what the prize should be doing, which is advancing emerging artists from a certain stage of their career to the next level. If this prize is successful in the long run, I would hope to see more of that. I hope that we can see more protégés moving on to being nominated and even some of them receiving the full prize. That would be evidence of good investments being made by juries and award winners to talented artists.”

Abraham had the opportunity to select his own protégé to receive the 25,000 dollar prize, to which he says, “It couldn’t have been an easier decision.” Abraham selected Mitchell Cushman, an up-and-coming director. 

“I had not only seen Mitchell’s work at the point in which I was faced with that decision, and saw extraordinary talent there, but I had also had an occasion to work with Mitchell as an associate director on a show of mine, and really got to see his chops as a director in a room with other artists. I also saw, as an outside observer, the occasional producing part ... Mitchell had enormous creativity around manifesting something from nothing. It’s a combination of his talent and skill set as a director, which is significant, the group of artists he’s gathered around him and his successes as an artistic producer. Those three things are very rare to find in a person.”

Winning the Siminovitch prize can greatly affect the work and lifestyle of a theatre artist. Abraham reflects on his win: “It felt good! A common experience of the people who have won the prize itself or the protégé prize is that there’s a simultaneous feeling of having one’s work and efforts validated and affirmed and then also a heightened sense of responsibility and accountability to live up to one’s ideals to what their artistic practices actually are. With great power comes great responsibility!” 

The responsibility of winning this prize comes in many different forms. Abraham says this responsibility doesn’t just end with the theatre but also applies to his home life.

“When I won the prize I was in the middle of an 11-million dollar capital campaign to build a new theatre, but the reality now is, I’m in my forties. I have a family. The principle way in which the win helps is that it takes the pressure off of managing a career as a professional artist and a family, which is extremely challenging.”

Abraham wishes to leave this bit of advice for this year’s nominees and eventual winner: “Take time to enjoy it and move through the process of being nominated and winning. It is an affecting process. Take the time to let it affect you, and to let it prompt whatever process that you’re ready to undertake and to re-prioritize where it is you’re going and what is important to you as a theatre artist.”

This year, the Siminovitch prize is honouring a theatre designer. The nominees are Bretta Gerecke, Anick La Bissonnière, Trevor Schwellnus and Nancy Tobin. The award will be given out on Sunday, October 18 at University of Toronto’s Hart House Theatre. For more information, check out www.siminovitchprize.com.