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The Stage Debut Awards 2017: First shortlist celebrates UK theatre’s newcomers

Clockwise from top left: The Stage Debut Awards nominees Dan Gillespie Sells, Adam J Bernard, Miriam Teak-Lee and Grace Molony. Photos: Adam Bennett, Tristram Kenton and Manuel Harlan Clockwise from top left: The Stage Debut Awards nominees Dan Gillespie Sells, Adam J Bernard, Miriam Teak-Lee and Grace Molony. Photos: Adam Bennett, Tristram Kenton and Manuel Harlan
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The Stage has announced the inaugural nominees for The Stage Debut Awards 2017, featuring newcomers covering the length and breadth of British theatre.

Performers, directors, writers and designers have been nominated in nine categories, with the shortlist ranging from an actor as young as 16 to a lighting designer making his debut after more than 20 years in the industry.

They are joined by a host of established performers, including John Boyega, Amber Riley and Audra McDonald, competing for the Joe Allen Best West End Debut award, which is the only prize in the competition that will be put to a public vote.

The Stage Debut Awards is the first awards ceremony in the UK to be exclusively focused on emerging theatremakers on and off stage.

The Stage’s associate editor Lyn Gardner, who sat on the judging panel, said the talent nominated was cause for “great optimism about the future of theatre in the UK”.

“With so much great theatre taking place across the country, we have a really strong and diverse set of nominees – from young actors making their debuts in small fringe theatres to designers, writers and directors at major regional and national producing theatres,” she said.

In the performance categories, nominees for best actor and actress in a play hail from shows in Belfast, Stratford-upon-Avon, London, Manchester, Chichester and Edinburgh.

Performers nominated include Kenneth Omole for Assata Taught Me at the Gate Theatre and TJ Jones, who was just 16 when he made his debut in The Seven Acts of Mercy at the Royal Shakespeare Company.

They are joined by performers including Anya Chalotra, for Much Ado About Nothing at Shakespeare’s Globe, and Grace Molony for The Country Girls at Chichester Festival Theatre, as well as Jess Peet and Kellan Frankland from Edinburgh Lyceum’s Alice in Wonderland and The House of Bernarda Alba at Manchester Royal Exchange respectively.

Dreamgirls’ Adam J Bernard appears on the best actor in a musical list, alongside The Girls‘ Ben Hunter, Samuel Thomas for Allegro at Southwark Playhouse and Daniel Urch for 110 in the Shade at Ye Olde Rose and Crown.

Miriam-Teak Lee and Siena Kelly from On the Town at Regent’s Park will compete for the best actress in a musical prize alongside Chloe Carrington for Hair at the Hope Mill and Emily Hughes for Fiddler on the Roof at Liverpool Everyman.

Elsewhere, the Feeling frontman Dan Gillespie Sells is nominated in the best composer category for his debut musical Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, which ran at Sheffield Theatres and is transferring to the West End.

His show is one of four on the shortlist, with nods also for Removal Men at the Yard in east London, Snow in Midsummer at the RSC and Roller Diner at Soho Theatre.

Playwrights Titas Halder, Asif Khan, Katherine Soper and Victoria Willing are shortlisted in the writer category, while the best designer list includes Rosie Elnile, Joshua Gadsby, Jessica Staton and Simon Spencer. Spencer worked at the RSC as a lighting technician for more than 20 years before making his lighting design debut on The Tempest.

In the directing category, Sean Aydon is nominated for his production of Richard III at the Rosemary Branch in London, alongside Alexander Lass for 46 Beacon at Trafalgar Studios, Lekan Lawal for Betrayal at Derby Theatre and Lynette Linton for Assata Taught Me at the Gate.

The Joe Allen Best West End Debut award features eight nominees. Boyega, Riley and McDonald are joined by Anthony Boyle for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Imogen Poots for Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Groundhog Day‘s Andy Karl, Andrew Polec from Bat Out of Hell and Half a Sixpence‘s Charlie Stemp.

Unlike the other categories, which recognise complete newcomers, the West End debut award is a “chance to celebrate talent making their mark in the West End for the first time”, The Stage’s associate editor and judge Mark Shenton said.

The Stage’s nationwide team of critics has been submitting suggestions since last year, alongside a public call-out. A longlist was then created with input from a panel of industry experts, including Bush Theatre artistic director Madani Younis, National Theatre casting director Wendy Spon and lighting designer Paule Constable.

The final judging panel consists of Gardner, Shenton, the Times’ critic Sam Marlowe, and The Stage’s editor Alistair Smith and reviews editor Natasha Tripney. They will judge all categories bar the West End debut award, and the winners will be announced at a ceremony on September 17.

Click here for the full list of nominees

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