The Jessie Awards: What is it? Who is Jessie? Those were the first two questions that popped into my mind when someone at work casually mentioned it to me. Growing up as an Ontarian, I only knew about the Dora’s. First clue was, of course, that it’s some sort of Award Ceremony. Possibly a show as well? Is it like the Dora’s? My curiosity took over, so I did some digging and, surprise surprise! It’s an award ceremony for Vancouver’s Professional Theatre Community (officially titled The Jessie Richardson Award Society).

The Greater Vancouver Professional Theatre Alliance began presenting the awards in 1982. In 1997 the Society was formed and it took over the production of the Award Ceremony. The awards event aims to celebrate and promote the theatre community and its outstanding achievements.

“Jessie’s contributions helped grow the Vancouver theatre industry into the thriving community it is today.”

A photo of the coast line in Vancouver, where the Jessie Awards are held.
Photo by Adi kavazovic from Pexels

Who is Jessie Richardson?

She is described as an actor, director, designer, and a patron of the arts. She was an active and inspiring individual who supported Vancouver’s theatre industry for forty years. Since the 1930s, Jessie designed costumes for the Vancouver Little Theatre Association, as well as acted and directed. During the 1950s Jessie helped to form the Holiday Theatre, a children’s touring company now known as the Playhouse Holiday Theatre. Afterwards she worked for UBC for many years as a performer and costume designer.

Jessie’s contributions helped grow the Vancouver theatre industry into the thriving community it is today. Thus, it’s no surprise that the awards were named the “Jessies.”

How does it work? There are three volunteer juries for the annual award ceremony. Each year the “Jessie Review Committee” set forth the rules for each season. The following awards recognize the outstanding achievements of an individual or group within various theatrical disciplines. There are four different categories for a group of awards. Large theatre, small theatre, theatre for young audiences, script, and special awards. Under the script category there is only one award titled “Outstanding Original Script.”

Awards under large and small theatres (2020)

A photo of Vancouver, where the Jessie Awards are held taken from the water.
Photo by: Aditya Chinchure from Unsplash
  • Outstanding Performance by an Actor in a Lead Role
  • Outstanding Performance by an Actress in a Lead Role,
  • Outstanding Performance by an Actor Supporting
  • Outstanding Performance by an Actress Supporting
  • Outstanding Lighting Design
  • Outstanding Sound Design/Original Composition
  • Outstanding Costume Design
  • Outstanding Set Design
  • Georgia Straight Outstanding Direction
  • Outstanding Production of a Musical
  • Outstanding Production of a Play
  • Significant Artistic Achievement: Outstanding Innovative and Immersive Storytelling

Awards for Theatre for Young Audiences (2020)

  • Outstanding Performance
  • Outstanding Design: Video Design
  • Outstanding Artistic Creation: Direction
  • Outstanding Production
  • Significant Artistic Achievement: Outstanding stage management

Special Awards

There are also “Special Awards” which are the following: Critics Choice Innovation, Vancouver NOW Representation and Inclusion, Patron of the Arts, Mary Phillips Award, Sam Payne Award, John Moffat & Larry Lillo Award, GVPTA Career Achievement, Sydney Risk Award, Colin Campbell Award, Ray Michal Award and the Gordon Armstrong Playwright’s Rent Award. Click here to access the official website. Perhaps you’ll recognize the productions and artists who have received awards!

Learn about Mississauga’s own Marty Awards here.


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