2023 Jerry Wasserman and Angie Rico

Photo: Susan Mertens

Theatre critic, author and actor Jerry Wasserman won the 2023 Max Wyman Award in Critical Writing. Angie Rico, an emerging writer and media artist, was chosen to receive a $1,000 mentee prize.

Jerry Wasserman

Jerry Wasserman, 2023 Recipient

With a Ph.D. in English from Cornell University, Professor Emeritus Jerry Wasserman taught English and Theatre at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver for over four decades and served as Head of the Department of Theatre & Film from 2007-12. Jerry has published widely on drama and theatre, especially Canadian theatre. He is author or editor of five books, including Spectacle of Empire: Marc Lescarbot’s Theatre of Neptune in New France, Theatre and AutoBiography: Writing and Performing Lives in Theory and Practice (with Sherrill Grace) and Modern Canadian Plays, the standard text in Canadian drama classes for over 35 years. He also wrote and hosted Modern Canadian Theatre, a 12-hour TV series for BC’s Open Learning Agency/Knowledge Network. He has given talks at many theatre, literature, literacy and music conferences, including twice at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

A member of Canadian Actors Equity since 1978, Jerry has appeared on stage for the Arts Club, Playhouse, City Stage, Westcoast Actors, New Play Centre, United Players and Western Gold Theatre. He served as President of Playwrights Theatre Centre from 2004-08. As a member of ACTRA and the Union of BC Performers, Jerry has over 200 film and TV credits, from The X-Files, Look Who’s Talking and Alive to I, Robot, Watchmen and The Last of Us.

Jerry began working as a theatre critic on CBC national radio in the mid-1980s and broadcast weekly reviews on Vancouver’s The Afternoon Show from 1987-2003. He has since served as theatre critic for The Province and, currently, The Vancouver Sun. About 400 of his articles and reviews have appeared in those papers. Since 2004, his website, www.vancouverplays.com, has received over 1.6 million visits. It archives more than 1,000 of his reviews. For the Vancouver Writers Fest and other organizations, Jerry has done one-on-one public interviews with many well-known international artists including Stephen Sondheim, Robert Lepage, Fran Lebowitz, Neil LaBute, Ian MacEwan, Kim Cattrall, and Ian Rankin. Awards include UBC’s Killam University Teaching Prize and Dorothy Somerset Award for Performance and Development in the Performing and Creative Arts; UBCP/ACTRA’s Sam Payne Award; a Jessie Richardson Award from the Greater Vancouver Professional Theatre Association for Career Achievement; the Patrick O’Neill Edited Book Prize and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Canadian Association for Theatre Research; and election to the B.C. Entertainment Hall of Fame, with a star on Granville Street.

The jury citation reads:

Jerry Wasserman’s remarkable career in many ways embodies the aims of this award. His decades as a teacher and as a performer give his writing about the theatre a sympathetic and thoughtful understanding that is expressed in language that is lively, direct and deeply informed. The jury was unanimous in its appreciation of the way he has encouraged and enhanced a wider appreciation of the richness of the Vancouver arts scene and the talents of those who make that richness possible—both through his print and media reviews and through his website, which is a consistent source of information and critical context on all things theatre in Vancouver.

Yosef Wosk commented:

 Jerry Wasserman’s voice has been a steady and trusted source of information and context about the Vancouver theatre scene for decades. He treats criticism and commentary as an integral part of the cultural fabric, and sees the role of the critic not as an antagonist to the performer and creator but as a collaborator. I am delighted that he is to receive this award.




Angie Rico, Mentee Award

Angie Rico, Mentee Award

Angie Rico is an emerging writer and media artist based in Vancouver, B.C., on unceded Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh territory. Through her writing practice, she strives to amplify diverse perspectives in the art world and is dedicated to exploring how art writing can foster nuanced discussions that consider both the art and its broader context.

Her freelance writing spans art and culture, with a particular focus on film, theatre, and visual art. Her reviews and essays have been published in various local publications, including Reissue, Peripheral Review, and SAD magazine.

She holds a BFA in Film, Video, and Integrated Media from Emily Carr University and is currently participating in the Neworld Theatre’s Critical Futures program, which aims to train and uplift BIPOC theatre reviewers.



The award ceremony

Vancouver Public Library, May 28, 2023



Photos: Merla Beckerman, Viktoria Langton and Susan Mertens


Here is the text of Jerry Wasserman’s acceptance speech, delivered at the award ceremony:


Yosef Wosk presents the award plaque

I want to thank everyone involved in helping me attain this great honour, and they are many:
Max Wyman, of course; Yosef Wosk, whose generosity and foresight in honouring Max made

this all possible; and Merla Beckerman, who organized this lovely, lavish reception. Max, Yosef
and Merla also constituted the jury that chose me, so I am doubly grateful to them.
I need to thank my wonderful wife Sue, and my kids, Kelsey and Brodie. Sue and Kelsey
are here tonight. Brodie is in New York and couldn’t make it. One of the toughest things about
being a theatre critic is having to leave home so many nights a week. I wouldn’t say I’ve been an
absentee parent or husband exactly, but my family has been very gracious in granting me those
thousands of evening hours to go off and indulge my theatre addiction. Sue especially. She’s
seen a lot more plays than she probably wanted to, and spent a lot of nights putting the kids to
bed by herself, or having me come home and report to her that “you missed a great show” or
“you made the right decision to stay home tonight.” Plus she’s a crackerjack editor who helps
keep my writing honest.

Arts criticism may seem like a solo activity—the critic casting his or her ex cathedra
judgments down upon the artists—but really it takes a village. Without the infrastructures of
radio, newspapers and social media technology, the critic—this critic—would have no way to
reach an audience. I’ve been so lucky in having smart, culturally engaged hosts and editors who
have championed live theatre and my reviews of it, and never, that I can recall, censored me, or
told me what I could or couldn’t write or talk about. I’m thinking of Kathryn Gretzinger, who
was host of the Afternoon Show on CBC Radio for many of those years when I appeared every
Friday afternoon to talk with her about the latest production, and Mark Forsythe, who
preceded her in that chair. And I’ve been fortunate to work for two of Postmedia’s finest,
Dharm Makwana and Aleesha Harris. Dharm was my editor for many years when I was
reviewing for The Province, and Aleesha, who is here tonight, is my current editor at The Sun. As
everyone knows, newspapers are having a tough time staying alive, and they are such an
important part of the cultural ecology. These two heroes are keeping the flame burning,
fighting the good fight to give the arts space and attention as newspapers shrink in size, and
budgets for freelancers who do things like review theatre shrink even more.

My own website, Vancouverplays.com, now in its 20 th year with more than a million and
a half visitors, would not be possible without the invisible hands of the tech geniuses who get
the previews and theatre news and ads and reviews up on the site, and take them down when
they stale-date. My great thanks to my current webmaster Tim Li and previous webmistress, as
she and I called her, Linda Malloy.

I also want to thank the Vancouver theatre community as a whole. One reason I love
living in this place so much is its rich, vital arts community of whose ecology I’ve been a part for
over half a century. Within a year of arriving in Vancouver in 1972 to teach at UBC, I was in a
play—A Midsummer Night’s Dream in Stanley Park, directed by Bill Millerd. I’ve been acting,
teaching theatre, reviewing theatre, writing about theatre ever since, non-stop. And Canadian
theatre, Vancouver theatre specifically, has been my primary focus. I was lucky to arrive here at
a time when professional theatre was just getting off the ground and starting to boom. It’s been
exciting for me to watch new companies form from the enthusiasm, talent and imagination of
individuals getting together with likeminded others, making something new and vital—and
making huge personal sacrifices to do so. How can anyone working in the theatre in Vancouver
afford to live in Vancouver?!

Neworld Theatre is one of those companies. It’s been around now for 30 years and
responsible for some of the best productions of those decades, including The Adventures of Ali
and Ali and the aXes of Evil, which I practically made a career of writing about. One of
Neworld’s most recent projects is the brilliant Critical Futures program, which trains emerging
BIPOC arts critics in the specifics of theatre criticism. It was through that program that I found
the quietly remarkable Angie Rico, with whom I’ve chosen to share this award as my mentee.
Angie is an emerging filmmaker and writer who will be, I’m certain, an excellent critic at a time
when voices from underrepresented communities and ethnicities are more important than
ever. Angelica Schwartz is here tonight from Neworld, and I want to thank her in particular for
helping lead me to Angie, along with Lindsay Lachance, Stephen Drover, and Carmen Aguirre, all
of whom contributed to the Critical Futures program and also advised me.
I’ve worn a lot of hats during my career in theatre, but my professional home has always
been UBC, where I was fortunate to be cross-appointed in two great departments, English and

the Department of Theatre & Film, surrounded, supported and inspired by an extraordinary
cadre of friends and colleagues. I’m so happy to have my good buddy: director, artistic director,
and Head of the Dept. of Theatre and Film, Stephen Heatley, here tonight; and my dear friends,
fellow English Department emeritus professors and two of Canada’s foremost theatre scholars,
Sherrill Grace and Tony Dawson.

I also want to thank my fellow theatre critics, particularly Jo Ledingham, Colin Thomas
and Kathleen Oliver. They have been stubbornly, consistently reviewing and writing about
theatre in Vancouver almost as long as I have, and for such little remuneration. They do it for
love, really. Everyone who works in and around the theatre, in and around the arts generally,
for the most part, does it for love, because there’s so little money in it. We also do it because
we know it’s important. The arts make us think and feel. They take us out of our everyday life
and into the hearts and minds and lives of other people. The arts help make us civilized.
One of my first positive notices as a professional actor came from my performance at
the old Seymour Street Arts Club in 1976 in a play called Moonchildren. The Vancouver Sun
critic wrote, “Jerry Wasserman’s portrayal of the prurient, slimily permissive landlord Willis
takes high honors.” Prurient? Slimy! That’s been a tough reputation to live up to, but I think I’ve
managed. The critic, by the way, was Max Wyman. The guy’s got a way with words. Max also
reviewed me the next year in a production of Feiffer’s People at City Stage on Thurlow, where I
shared the stage with the talented Jane Mortifee, my good friend ever since, who is also here
tonight. “Jerry Wasserman does Huey, the brash make-out artist, with a nice hint of insecurity
under the bravado.”

Those blurbs are classic Max, mini-lessons in the art of critical writing. Notice how
specific they are, how carefully observed, how precisely articulated. And how generous, even
attributing subtext to my acting—that “hint of insecurity under the bravado”—when it was
probably just stage fright. There’s even subtle alliteration in his commentary: portrayal,
prurient, permissive; brash, bravado. None of what Max calls the critic’s vague weasel words
like interesting or fabulous. And he walks the fine line between popular, broadly
comprehensible diction and what my father used to call two-dollar words that many readers
might have to look up: prurient. In one of my favourite sections of Max’s Tips for Critics on the
website maxwymanaward.org, he argues that the critic should avoid pretentiousness and
eschew jargon in any form. In fact, he says, the critic should eschew the word eschew! Back up
your assertions, he tells us junior critics. Be fair and have fun.
I can’t say that I always avoid weasel words in my reviews, or always eschew the
pretentious, but I do try to follow the master in being observant, specific, generous and fair,
and writing vividly. In 1987, when I first started reviewing for the Afternoon Show, which
broadcast all across BC at the time, one of the CBC producers gave me the most valuable note
I’ve ever gotten as a reviewer. Paint a picture for your audience, I was told, and make it as
complete, detailed and memorable as possible. Because of all the people who will be listening
to your review, many of whom love theatre, only a very few will ever actually see that play.
Your job is to be a conduit for them; give them the second-hand pleasure of experiencing what
they can’t access first-hand. Even now, as I write for a specifically Vancouver-area audience for
the newspaper or my website, the principle holds true: most people who read the review will
not see or have seen the play. I believe strongly that’s one of my jobs as a critic: sharing my
theatrical experience with my reading or listening audience to give them pleasure, information,
and informed opinion.

I’d like to think that my critical opinions of theatre are especially informed. I know what
it’s like to be on stage. I have an insider’s knowledge of what it takes to produce a play. Having
taught, researched and written about drama and theatre history, I also have a broad context
and deep data-base of theatre to draw upon. Having attended and reviewed Vancouver theatre
specifically over many decades, I have a clear sense of the local history of so much that appears
on our contemporary stages. But as an actor and teacher, as a member of this theatre
community that I review, I also have multiple conflicts of interest. I frequently review my
former students. I review fellow actors, people I’ve shared the stage with, people with whom
I’ve competed just this week in auditioning for a Hallmark Xmas movie. I review directors who
might, I hope, cast me in their next show. So how do I navigate that very tricky terrain? With
great care, with clarity, with candor and, I hope, fairness.
I would never take a cheap critical shot at an actor or director or designer just to sound
clever—not because I don’t want to alienate people whom I know (which I don’t), but because I

know how damn hard it is to do that work well, how many hours people have invested in
preparing for that single moment when I happen to see them, how easy it is not to live up to
your own highest aspirations as a theatre artist, often for factors beyond your control—thin
budgets, inadequate rehearsal time, someone else’s shortcuts. It’s hard enough doing theatre
for the meager financial return one gets; no theatre artist needs to have some authoritative
jerk in the audience mocking their effort. So I try to be honest, but sometimes I pull punches,
avoid mentioning a particularly awkward performance that night, sometimes even can the
review altogether if I can’t find anything good to say about the show. Sure, part of my job is to
help you spend your entertainment dollar where I think it might best be spent, and to help you
save it where I think it might be wasted. But really, I consider that kind of retail reviewing the
least important of the critic’s roles. Many times when I thought a show was just awful,
audiences have flocked to it, people have told me how much they loved it. The critic’s opinion
is, after all, just one point of view.

I review theatre, teach theatre, write about theatre, go to the theatre, perform in the
theatre because I love theatre. The only place I’d rather be than in a theatre audience is on a
theatre stage. (I love being on sound stages, too, but that’s a topic for another day.) I believe
that I, as a critic, have a responsibility to theatre. And as a Vancouver theatre critic, I have a
responsibility to Vancouver theatre. It’s not that I feel I have to steer local theatre in a
particular direction or correct its errors by pronouncing on what should be going on here, what
kinds of shows should be getting produced, what kinds of aesthetic might best serve local
theatre artists and their audiences. God knows I’d like to see the Arts Club do more meaty fare;
I’d like to see a company emerge to produce the kinds of classics and modern classics that, for
all its faults, the Playhouse once did; I’d love to see a company like Neworld or Electric
Company get its own theatre space so that the kinds of experimental, non-mainstream theatre
that we so rarely see in Vancouver might have a physical home. But those things will evolve or
not whatever my yappings. What I hope to continue to do is what I think my most valuable
contribution to the local and national theatre ecology might be: go on acting as a public
intellectual, as an informed, passionate advocate for the arts; helping spread the gospel of
theatre as one of the primary elements of civilized life: a forum in which the community tells its

own stories, and other people’s, and that of other cultures, to itself. Where we interact not
with screens but with live, striving, fallible, talented human bodies and minds in close contact
with our own, seeing and feeling things to which we might not otherwise have access. As Max
Wyman writes, “Cultural commentary … gives us ways to rethink who we are and contemplate
how we can be better. Through the shared experience and examination of artistic expression,
the critic and the cultural commentator inspire us to aspire.”
Thank you all again for inspiring me to aspire to deserve this remarkable honour. Thank
you all very much.
Jerry Wasserman