Stage Raw: Some Bitter Reaction to Theater Awards Nominees
REACTION TO THE REACTIONS TO THEATER AWARDS NOMINEES
When the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle announced its nominees last week in Back Stage, there were a couple of outraged comments on behalf of the productions that had been overlooked. With the announcement of the L.A. Weekly Theater Awards noms on Monday, there was a mix of delight and consternation -- the former from nominees, the latter from people who post dyspeptic comments on blogs like this.
"Sour grapes" is how a cross-town colleague described the reactions in Back Stage to the LADCC list. The casting of generalized aspersions wears thin, but I found merit to a comment by "Michael Mulin", reacting to the L.A. Weeklys announcement. He writes that "This nominee list was in essence a copy/paste of the Ovations and the LADCC." Behind his annoyance, Michael raises a question that's too serious to be ignored. So let's start with some facts.
There are some overlaps among the L.A. Weekly nominees and those of the Ovations and the LADCC, but "cut and paste" is a mis-characterization.
Of the three-awards committees, the Ovations is based on peer-review. To the best of my knowledge, none of the Ovation voters serves on either the LADCC or the L.A. Weekly committees. LADCC has about 20 voters, the L.A. Weekly 11. Of those two committees, three members served on both in 2009. This means that there's considerable disparity of personnel. Yet if we're to take Michael's argument at face value, the three committees arrived at much the same conclusions as to what kind of work displayed excellence. That should tell you something. But what?
It could tell you that the three committees were all horse-trading and influence peddling among themselves, but that's nonsense. It could also tell you that "excellence" is an objective commodity. I don't personally believe that, though I do believe that the nominees on our list deserve to be there. What it does tell us is that there's some consensus among disparate voters over what kind of work they responded to. I'm not sure that's a good thing. I accept Michael's implication that one of these committees -- ours -- should approach the work from a divergent aesthetic. That's an argument I can get behind.
But how? A change in personnel? We should make some adjustments, I agree with Michael that such a task is in order, but it's unlikely that will change much, for reasons that are systemic. The need for quorums in order to move a nomination forward presents a constant challenge. Some great shows disappear from sight because not enough of our committee got to see their two week run, when there were 11 shows closing that week. These are the reasons I actually can't stand awards of any kind, because the work I admire most often gets left behind. And that I administrate these Awards is just a whopper of an irony. I do it because our Awards are really just an excuse for the community to get together and have a blowout party, which it deserves. Everyone is invited, not just nominees. It's way more fun if people who aren't nominees show up, not only for the camaraderie, but because next year they might well be nominees who deserve such support.
The Weeklys were based on the Obies in New York, in which the Village Voice chose to award all the kinds of (off-Broadway) shows that the Tonys (which concentrate on Broadway) were ignoring. The L.A. Weekly gives awards to shows only in theaters of 99-seats or less -- but that's the majority, not the alternative. In Los Angeles 90% of plays being produced are being performed in such theaters, with huge swaths of productions that are simply replicating what's been done on Broadway and Off -- even in our tiniest theaters.
Artistically, this is a very conservative theater city, and has grown more so. We review and often praise adventurous, unpolished work for its promise, but that's not the kind of work that usually emerges with an award, when such awards are chosen by a committee of people who can't even agree on what kind of potluck to have at the meetings, let alone which are the best productions.
I'm extremely heartened by the arrival of the Hollywood Fringe this summer, which may provide a geography and intensity for the marginal, multidisciplinary work that promises to move the art form(s) forward -- local and international side by side. We'll be there, looking for what's new and different, not what's trendy and cliquish (a complaint raised by a different commenter). You have to take me at my word on that one.
As for the awards, please, let's all take the work seriously, but not so much the prizes. Come for the party. That way we'll all stay sane, though not sober.