I appreciate Bruce Miller’s take on this year's list of RTCC nominees. Previous years’ awards have generated their shares of quibbles and cries of outrage, much of it fairly vociferous. I’d rather read something well-composed and coherent like Bruce’s post than hear the nasty secondhand rantings of someone who feels slighted. Criticism of the awards has been overwhelmed – at least in my estimation – by the outpouring of thanks and appreciation at the good faith effort the RTCC has put into the process. As I said after the awards last year, my favorite choices do not always get nominated and my favorite nominees do not always win, so I understand the feeling of disappointment. But that disappointment fades quickly when confronted with the joy and celebration that permeates the night of the awards themselves. Sure, the hockey pucks are the excuse to get together but the party is what makes it worthwhile.
If you’ll forgive me some collective back-patting, I think the RTCC did a pretty good job this year. Numerous exceptional performances and productions are recognized and beyond that, the list is more inclusive than in previous years. Convening as a group of 8 this year, the RTCC spread 100 nominations out between 32 productions (by my count) versus 99 noms among 27 shows last year. It may not seem like it when you consider the large number of noms that some shows received – and the unfortunate shutout of others – but I do think we’re getting better at this.
Having said that, there are two issues that Bruce touches on that I think are worthy of some discussion. (Disclaimer: I am only one critic among the 8 that make up the RTCC so nothing I write here should be construed as the official word of the RTCC. It’s all just my personal thoughts, recollections, considerations…etc. etc.)
First, the “best versus best supporting” issue. The RTCC has had to make these kinds of calls in the past as well. When is a role supporting, when is it a lead? Sometimes it’s obvious. However, in shows like “Putnam” or “Rent,” there are judgment calls that have to be made. In general (and in my opinion), the RTCC has been guided by the desire to recognize as many performers as possible. For instance, 6 actors were nominated from “Putnam.” If all of their roles were to be considered “Supporting” (which for an ensemble show like “Putnam,” that is certainly a valid argument), not nearly as many performers would have been nominated. Ours is not a perfect system but one that is approached with generosity, not scientific precision.
As I understand it, other awards organizations accept “for your consideration” applications for nominations. In these cases, a network or a producer or a studio decides which roles are leading or supporting and then they submit their suggestions for nominations. There has been talk about asking theater companies to do that here in Richmond. There has been trepidation that companies that are already understaffed and overworked – or that really don’t give a rip what the RTCC nominates – wouldn’t put the time or effort into putting together a list. So then the RTCC might be left with a situation where a production was particularly outstanding – or an individual performer was particularly exceptional – but no application for nomination is received and so they are left out.
So I ask you, all half-dozen or so of my semi-loyal readers, what do you think? Should theaters be asked to submit a recommendation to the RTCC for productions / designers / actors to be considered for nomination in specific categories? That would allow for an easy answer to the question “why is xx being considered for lead when his/her performance was a supporting one?” And it would certainly make the RTCC’s job easier. Chime in and let me know.
Next up: an answer to the Joe Inscoe question. Joe gave an amazing performance in “On Golden Pond,” recognized as exceptional by everyone I talked to. I didn’t see him in “Shining City,” but the other RTCC critics also raved about his work in that show. The group has not shied away from nominating someone twice in the same category – see Kniffen, Direction; Barker, Set Design; Hartman, Lighting Design -- so why not two for Joe?
Well, coming up with a final list is usually a zero-sum game: nominating Joe a second time would have meant dropping someone else from a category we were already tying ourselves in knots trying to pare down. There were several exceptional performances we had already reluctantly trimmed from the list. And then who could have been dropped from among the eventual nominees: the electrifying Zukerman? The hilarious Koch? The dynamic duo of Hackman and Brown? The fresh new Bloch, shining in a challenging role? The previously-passed-over Cole who made an oft-played role real and vital again? As a group, I believe we felt we had already given up so much, we were not going to give up any more.
So Joe’s “OGP” performance was not recognized. But his exceptional work in other shows was. Again, it may not be perfect but it seemed like the right thing to do.
Finally, I hope no one is picking up a sense of defensiveness in what I’m writing because I am really not feeling defensive about any of this. Mostly, I feel like there are some things that people deserve at least some explanation for – as well as many other things that will remain the result of the mysterious alchemy that is the RTCC. Even more so, I hope that, whatever you feel about the names that will be listed in the program, you will come out to the awards and support the scene in general, and the Theatre Artists Fund specifically. If it’s anything like the past two years, it’ll be a heckuva party.