Wednesday, August 29, 2012

How the Sausage is Made

Every year we’ve done the RTCC awards – hard to believe this’ll be the 5th time – I’ve received several questions about how we come up with our selections, both for nominees and then the eventual award recipients. Sometimes these questions are posed out of what seems like genuine curiosity, other times they’re posed more pointedly, usually with the prefix, “How could you not nominate…” Every year, I concede – when I don’t preemptively assert – that the process is not perfect. But every year, I think it gets better.

The nomination process is relatively simple. Each critic submits a list of three recommended nominees in each category. The 5 performances, productions or designers that get the most mentions are our nominees.

Of course, it really isn’t quite that simple. Many times, a critic can’t limit him/herself to only 3 choices; more rarely, a critic only has 1 or 2 choices they consider worthy in a certain category. Also, when the tallies are completed, often there are numerous choices that are tied with an equal number of mentions. I remember one year going into a meeting with 14 possible nominees being considered in one category. In situations like that, debate ensues. Often, a passionate argument by a single critic can swing a decision but most often, it is the consensus among many or all of us that determines the final decision. In some cases, discussion does not convince anyone to change their preferences. We sometimes will defer a decision if we can to allow people to ruminate further but that doesn’t always result in any changes either. This kind of circumstance has resulted in times in the past when we’ve had more than 5 nominees for a category.

There are inherent problems with the process that we’ve done our best to address. One is that not every critic sees every single show. We’ve dealt with this both pro-actively and reactively. Pro-active: if any of us critics sees a show that we think has particularly award-worthy stuff in it, we make a point to communicate that to the others in the circle so we can all do our best to see it. Reactive: we all respect each other’s opinion so that we accept each other’s evaluation of productions we didn’t see, at least to the extent that if someone makes a passionate argument with specific and pertinent information, we give it significant credence.

Also, the number of members in the Circle has grown to the extent that virtually every professional production in town is seen by at least 2 of its members allowing almost every production to be debated over and not just advocated for or against by a single member.

I’ve also heard the assertion that productions that play earlier in the season are at a disadvantage over those that open later. This is something that is said about any awards process: there are reasons why a slew of Broadway shows tend to open in April. We have tried to deal with that to some extent by having a mid-season review meeting (usually around February) where we consider the season so far and make a preliminary list of possible contenders for award nominations. This list is a starting point for the final nomination process ensuring that significant fall shows are not just dim memories come summertime.

Having said all of that, the final process is always bittersweet for me. I love it that many artists in town will get a boost of recognition from being nominated. I’m also a little torn up inside when some show or performance that I particularly enjoyed and maybe even advocated for with my colleagues ends up 6th or 7th or 8th on the list. This year was a rough one for plays in particular where at least a dozen deserving people did not show up among the final nominees. I look at just one play – “August: Osage County” – where 4 performances were nominated but at least 3 others were under consideration. Rest assured that it was not the only play where excellent work did not make it on our nomination list.

I’m sure people are frustrated, saddened or angered by that and I’m sorry for that. But I continue to see the awards as a celebration of ALL of the great work done in town. Whether it is recognized specifically or acknowledged generally, I think incredible things happen on Richmond-area stages and, that in many ways, the work here just keeps getting better. I hope you’ll join me on October 14th to celebrate it all.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I appreciate you explaining this, Dave. But why have several nominations for the same individual in a particular category (especially if you only have 5 slots available)? Seems it would be best (if wanting to build exposure and recognition) by choosing the better of those performances (and allowing a nomination for someone else - which would offer more diversity). Other awards avoid multiple nominations for that same reason (and other reasons as well - such as the avoidance of cannibalizing an individual's nomination).

Also, since not all critics can't make it to all shows (which creates bias), why not also offer audience choice awards? Something like that would be easy to facilitate online.

Thanks for offering some transparency on the process. Congrats to all the nominees! Looking forward to the ceremony this year!