By Cynthia Darling
On November 24, the United Solo Theatre Festival celebrated the closing of its wildly successful 10th anniversary season with a gala event at Theatre Row.
Comedian Nancy Redman began the evening with an excerpt from her latest solo show, “At Wit’s End: A Home for Retired Comics,” which she had performed earlier in the festival’s Best Of category. A winner of the Best Comedian and Best Stand‑Up Awards in previous years, Ms. Redman set a lighthearted tone for the night.
United Solo founder and artistic director Dr. Omar Sangare thanked the performers and staff who contributed to the festival this year. His message resounded: “Welcome to the United Solo family. You have a home here.” Awards presenters, each of whom had their own shows at the festival in this and past seasons, offered personal testimonials of the transformative power of United Solo to their artistic lives. Their stories about how they came to United Solo were as varied as the shows that made up the festival’s tenth season. Presenters paid tribute to Dr. Sangare and his team’s openness to new talent, and their vision to create a thriving space for solo performance in New York. They thanked United Solo for its encouragement of artists who were beginning their careers or taking new risks in their creative work.
The Critics’ Choice Award went to Janis Brenner for “Inheritance: A Litany.” In her acceptance speech, Ms. Brenner highlighted United Solo’s pivotal role in motivating her to reinvent herself artistically. After an extensive career in dance, she was moved to create autobiographical performances that were a blend of dance, drama and music. All of the award winners testified to United Solo’s unfailing support of artists.
During a crowning moment of the night, Aasif Mandvi accepted the United Solo Special Award for his one‑person show, “Sakina’s Restaurant,” which he had revived for a limited run at the Minetta Lane Theatre last fall. Mr. Mandvi spoke about how his show, which explored the lives of South Asian Muslim immigrants in pre‑9/11 America, now struck unexpected chords that reflected the changing attitudes toward immigrants in American society.
As in past seasons, United Solo had supported The Actors Fund, a nonprofit that provides a safety net for performing arts and entertainment professionals. Dr. Sangare presented a check for all collected donations to David Engelman, the organization’s Director of Communications and Marketing.
The night had an atmosphere of inclusion and celebration of the many diverse stories presented at the festival this season. The awards ceremony ended with the taking of a group photo onstage, and indeed, the stage was brimming with artists who have become part of the United Solo family. They had come together to tell their stories alone onstage, and were nourished by the support of this growing community of artists.
At the end of the night, the United solo team announced a major development: next season, in addition to its festival in New York, United Solo will also present its first festival in London. Participants will have the opportunity to perform at The Actors Centre, the renowned theatre in London’s legendary West End. United Solo in London is already accepting submissions from solo performers worldwide. There is one deadline for submission to both festivals. Applicants have the option to apply for either New York or London, or both. Applications may be submitted online at www.unitedsolo.org/submit.
After all the awards were presented, attendees adjourned to the Theatre Row lounge, where participants and winners mingled into the night.
A complete list of award winners is below:
United Solo Special Award: Aasif Mandvi
Best One‑Woman Show: “Seeing Stars” performed by Ellen Gould
Best One‑Man Show: “An Evening with Tennessee Williams” performed by Sebastian Galvez
The United Solo & Backstage Audience Award: “The Book of Mamaw” performed by Eugene Wolf
Best Direction: Kathleen Butler, “Seeing Stars”
Best Actress: Connie Winston in “American Captives: Lena Baker and Sandra Bland”
Best Actor: Edward Asner in “A Man and His Prostate”
Best Storyteller: Evan Handler in “Time On Fire: A Comedy of Terrors (Redux)”
Best Comedian: Debbie Kasper in “Has Anybody Seen Debbie?”
Best Encore: “JO (Not Just Mrs. Edward Hopper)” performed by Pippa White
Best International Show: “54 Silhouettes” performed by Charles Etubiebi
Best Musical: “My Life: The Musical Version” performed by Amit Gour
Best Drama: “The Asylum Project” performed by Elizabeth Mozer
Best Comedy: “The MisEducation of Ms. Freeman” performed by Alaina Freeman
Best Opera: “With Warmest Regards” performed by Lori Brown Mirabal
Best Storytelling Show: “Bo‑Nita” performed by Terri Weagant
Best Non‑Fiction Show: “Music Lessons” performed by Ed Napier
Best Variety Show: “Life Hacks with Miss Havisham” performed by Jen Jurek
Best Physical Theatre: “Collecting Driftwood” performed by Susan Jacobson
Best Autobiographical One‑Woman Show: “Wasbian” performed by Susan Ward
Best Autobiographical One‑Man Show: “A Bunch of Different Ways I’d Like to Die” performed by Tim McDonough
Best Experimental Show: “La Sangre” performed by Will Atkins
Best Documentary One‑Woman Show: “Equally Divine: The Real Story of the Mona Lisa” performed by Jenny Lyn Bader
Best Documentary One‑Man Show: “The Things They Carried” performed by Jim Stowell
Best Educational Show: “400 Years in Manhattan” performed by Noah Diamond
Best Multi‑Media Show: “Divining Bernhardt” performed by Bridget Kelly
Best Satire: “Kafka’s Ape” performed by Bonani Miyambo
Best Script: “Warm Cheese” written and performed by Teresa Thome
Best Adaptation: “In Order to Sleep Peacefully: An Adaptation of Alfred de Musset’s ‘Lorenzaccio’” by Patric Madden
All About Solo Critics’ Award: “Inheritance: A Litany” performed by Janis Brenner
Best Premiere: “Her Downstairs” performed by Sherill Turner
Best Emerging Actress: Lindsey Normington in “Figurehead”
Best Emerging Actor: Oscar Emmanuel Fabela in “Don Carlos: Prince of Asturias”
Best Festival Debut: Stephanie Everett in “It’s Fine, I’m Fine.”
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CYNTHIA DARLING is a writer and teacher living in Hell’s Kitchen. A writer for NAfME’s Teaching Music magazine for many years, she also wrote for New York Family magazine. She is currently working toward an MFA in Creative Writing with the Bluegrass Writers Studio. Her fiction and nonfiction appear in Louisiana Literature, Schuylkill Valley Journal, and Wanderlust Journal.