Mayor's celebration tips hat to arts faculty and alumni

(Edmonton) The Mayor’s Celebration of the Arts is an evening for every background and any age�the only requirement is that you have a sincere appreciation of the arts. The 24th year of the annual awards ceremony took place April 11 and both alumni and faculty from the Faculty of Arts received some of the top awards of the night.

U of A drama professor emeritus Charles Thomas Peacocke took home the Atco Gas award for Outstanding Lifetime Achievement, one of the most anticipated recognitions of the evening. Peacocke, who also received the Order of Canada in 1995, is not only known for having an influence on the majority of the city’s acting community, but also as a man with a big heart�exactly how he wishes to be thought of.

“I would like to be remembered as someone who cares,” said Peacocke in a tribute video that played for the audience. He fondly reflected on his calling for the stage taking place in 1951 when he enrolled at the U of A and took his first drama course, which introduced him to Studio Theatre.

“It was a great enlightenment to me to see that one could spend a life study doing this sort of thing, doing something you loved.”

Many others are equally content that Edmonton became Peacocke’s nest. Current Faculty of Arts drama professor David Barnet said he was thrilled to see his former colleague take home the award. Barnet was also recognized for his role as artistic director at GeriActors and Friends, which won the Telus Courage to Innovate award.

Geri Actors and Friends is an intergenerational theatre company that has recently created a strong line-up of programs, which includes collaboration with Rapid Fire Theatre for a comedy improv workshop for seniors.

Barnet says he was surprised and excited to accept the award and is thrilled to be a part of the event that puts a spotlight on the Edmonton arts community.

“It is very important that the arts is celebrated and acknowledged,” says Barnett, who feels award ceremonies such as the Mayor’s Celebration can at times ease the strain of funding challenges that often face local artistic companies.
Faculty of Arts alumna and writer Myrna Kostash received the City of Edmonton Book Prize for her historical account in the Prodigal Daughter: A Journey to Byzantium.  Accompanied by a cheque for $10,000, the prize has now become one of the most lucrative book prizes in the country. 

Reaching out to Edmonton’s youth and encouraging their participation in theatre is something Arlen Konopaki is especially passionate about. The 26 year old is the associate artistic director of Rapid Fire Theatre, which specializes in improvised comedy, where their list of workshops includes a class specifically for teenagers.

“I think the great thing about improv is that it attracts a young audience, which is lacking in a lot of theatres across Canada,” says Konopaki, who won the Northlands Award for an Emerging Artist–a recognition that is meant for an artist who demonstrates talent and accomplishment at the beginning of their professional career.
“It was a big honour. I knew I was in good company with the other nominees and past recipients so I was really pleased,” says Konopaki on his reaction to the win. “It is nice that we get one night a year that the city at large focuses on [the arts].”