Saturday, September 04, 2010

Question and Explanation

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.


Anonymous said...

What can i say, I like stirring up trouble, so here goes. Has anyone seen a better Richmond Shakes production than the one Ms. Hood directed? Very surprised it was not on the list!

elise said...

I think that by asking the theatres to submit whom they think are deserving of awards, you would be cutting of your own nose. Sure it would save you guys the work, but it also eliminates a level of presumed objectivity. On the other hand, this could be part of the solution of the exclusion of the fringe productions. If all the houses were to submit their lists, you'd have a much more comprehensive pool than that of the current system.

To you forever from me to you said...

Has the criticism aided the awards in any way? My statement was not one out of being slighted, if it was even viewed in that regard. It was one intended to challenge and hopefully aid future awards occasions. When there are many other companies producing entirely original works of a high caliber that go unrecognized, it seems to contradict the effort of inclusion attempted by the RTCC to nominate "two" companies in a new category celebrating original/locally developed work.

I do believe that a audience favorite would be a kick ass category, and might even help stir up additional and diverse patronage.

I really appreciate the awards show for what it accomplishes. I am proud to list my nomination from two years ago on my resume and in bios of projects I work on. However, as an active member in the community I feel it is my responsibility to voice that which I feel is weak so that in the future it may be strengthened.

Robyn O'Neill said...

It definitely was a helluva party!

Dave T said...

To anon: I enjoyed Ms. Hood's direction of "Twelfth Night" and wouldn't say anything to take away from it. However, there have been many spectacular shows at Rich Shakes over the years. Their "Midsummer" last season may have been the most fun I've had at a Shakespeare show ever. "Henry IV Part 1" produced before there were Artsies (I believe) may have been the most powerful show I've ever seen them do. Having said that, if we had nominated 6 or 7 shows for Best Play, "Twelfth Night" might have shown up on the list.

To Elise: I'm not sure how theaters submitting their choices for nominations would eliminate our objectivity. We'd still be free to choose among whomever we wanted, but a theater-submitted list would pare down our preliminary list of potential nominees and we'd have a theater company-designated category in which to consider them.

Joe, I did not consider your statement as one from someone being slighted; I was talking about comments I've received in past years. Your input has been -- and will continue to be -- invaluable as we continue to make these awards better. One example: We heard comments last year about the lack of recognition of the shows at Hanover Tavern. This was one motivating factor (of many) for asking Dan Sherrier to join our crew.

We continue to struggle with seeing all of the shows that are produced in town. Each of us is a freelance writer meaning we don't get paid if we see a show just for fun. As such, most of us find it impossible to see even a majority of the mainstage shows produced by established professional theater companies. However, there has been talk about an "Best Event" category or some other special designation for productions that aren't on a published season of a professional theater and that run for a minimum of a couple of weeks. Some other mechanism for recognizing other kinds of shows would be welcome. We'll continue to consider suggestions.

Thanks to everyone for their comments!

Stacie Rearden Hall said...

I have mixed feelings about the idea of theatre companies submitting possible noms for the RTCC's approval. On the one hand, submissions would give the opportunity to share some of the experiences in the creation process. For example, Dennis Williams created the Elizabeth Rex set by using the discarded lumber from another one of his earlier designs, effectively recycling the wood into a 16/17th century barn. It was a unique choice and an impressive achievement for such a young designer.

On the other hand, submissions could contribute to some level of tunnel vision in who gets nominated. If you go to a show with the suggestion that Actor A is giving the best performance of the year, you might unwittingly miss out on a beautifully nuanced performance by Actor B. I guess I'm saying that company-driven submissions could rob you of your ability to watch a show with the purity of sight that an average audience member has.

philcrosby said...

My only concern with the nomination process (and believe me, this is meant as no sour grapes at all, RTP was extremely pleased at its recognition this year), is that I wish all those on the committee saw all the plays. I would happily offer comps to committee members on non-openings, just to ensure that the fairest consensus could be reached.

As for the "Best Event" idea, could it be expanded to include artists coming from out of town for weekend runs? We are doing quite a bit of that.

kb saine said...

i'd like to suggest that theatre leaders do indeed submit their nominees, but we should be kept from nominating our own productions. (for example, i would have loved to see Emma Mason nominated for "Bluefish Cove" and Ryan Tiller nominated for "40 Acres," but i'd only be able to nominate Emma, so that i'm not simply promoting the work of my own company.) it might provide a kind of "artist appreciation" perspective.
that being said, i also echo Phil, and think that the above suggestion might help fill some of the void left when reviewers cannot attend a production. it's always a nebulous call when productions are nominated that only reviewer attended; i'm happy to participate in any solution that would contribute to a more well-rounded approach.
(& i LOVE the special event idea, Phil!)
also: in general, i love the awards. they're tons of fun. i'm quite looking forward to them!