Theatre Ontario Congratulates Vrenia Ivonoffski, Recipient of the 2014 Maggie Bassett Award

We are thrilled to announce that Theatre Ontario’s Maggie Bassett Award for 2014 will be presented to Vrenia Ivonoffski.  The award is for a significant and sustained contribution by an individual to the development of theatre in Ontario.  “It’s always challenging each year to select the recipient of the Maggie Bassett Award among so many compelling nominations,” said Leonard McHardy, Chair of the Jury.  “What stood out for us this year was the uniqueness of Vrenia’s contribution to theatre, and her commitment to creating training opportunities for older adults with a passion to study theatre.”  The award will be presented to Vrenia on May 5 at Theatre Ontario’s Annual General Meeting in Toronto.

Vrenia_IvonoffskiVrenia is the founding artistic director of ACT II STUDIO (now the Estelle Craig ACT II STUDIO), a theatre program and creative drama centre under the Programs for 50+, Chang School of Continuing Education at Ryerson University. Since 1991, the Studio has offered older adults a home to learn, experiment, hone skills and create a unique kind of theatre informed by a long-life perspective. The Studio provides programs in acting, directing and playwriting led by cutting-edge theatre professionals.

The Studio performance repertoire has ranged from Italian Comedy to Pinter and Beckett.  Her musical Leacock Live! adapted from Stephen Leacock's Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town introduced the Studio’s actors to the joys of “fringing” and won “Patron’s Pick” in the Tarragon Mainspace at the 2010 Toronto Fringe Festival.  In 1994 Vrenia embarked on the first of many (now annual) New Plays Festivals to encourage her students to share their unique perspectives with the wider community. The Studio’s playwriting program now boasts a very active playwriting circle and workshop program for developing playwrights.

Herself a playwright with a strong belief in the power of theatre for positive change, Vrenia has welcomed to the Studio collaborations with social science researchers from the Toronto-Sunnybrook Regional Cancer Centre, Ontario Coalition of Senior Citizens Organizations, York University, Sunnybrook’s Nursing Research Unit, and Ryerson. Since 2000, these research-based play commissions have led to over 500 touring opportunities across-Canada and in the US of plays on health and on social action issues. Videos of the shows on cancer and dementia are used worldwide to train health professionals and care givers in more compassionate care.

She is also a member of Theatre Ontario’s Talent Bank and was President of the Toronto Association of Acting Studios.

“Many of our students come to the Studio because they want to blossom and bloom ‘before it’s too late’,” said Vrenia.  “They’re ready to take risks, and hungry to be challenged.  The stereotypes about the limitations of age come crashing down very quickly.  My first Ryerson workshop with seniors bombed because I was so respectful of age we didn’t have much fun.  In my second workshop, the students wouldn’t let me kid-glove them.  By the third round, I’d realized that anything I would do in any other theatre school, I could at the Studio—and more because these students brought so much more to the table.”

The Maggie Bassett Award is a stunning bronze statuette entitled "COURAGE", designed by Rita Tuckett, and sculpted by Ronald Thom.  The award is sponsored by Alumnae Theatre.

As Theatre Ontario's first employee, the late Maggie Bassett created a solid foundation for the organization by launching the Professional Theatre Training Program, the Community Theatre Training Program, the Summer Courses, and the newsletter.  Her love for the arts held no barriers between community, professional, or educational theatre.  Maggie was also a fine director and actress and performed at Tarragon Theatre, Huron County Playhouse, and at the Alumnae Theatre.  For many years, she attended all regional festivals.  She was known for her warmth, humour, sparkle, and the sincere encouragement she bestowed on those around her.

Read more about Theatre Ontario’s Maggie Bassett Award

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