Some "bests" better than others?

June 23, 2009
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A number of arts organizations are making the push now for your votes in The Indy Channel's A-List competition. Soon we'll be seeing Nuvo's Best of picks and the latest superlatives from Indianapolis Monthly.

Question: What is the value of such awards to you (whether you are exclusively a patron or are directly involved in the arts)?

Do you trust or value the awards more if they are decided by committee rather than anonymous voting?

And, finally, do you think that Indy is ready for (or has any use for) a theater awards program such as the Barrymore Awards in Philadelphia or the Joseph Jefferson Awards in Chicago? (Yes, I know, we have the Encore Awards, but those don't include professional theaters.)
  • The Encore Awards can happen because there exists a critical mass of similarly situated theater organizations with easily articulable qualifications for participation...all volunteer...and generally similar accepted theater productions and seasons.

    Awards among the other fantastic theatre artists would have to find a reasoned means of comparing performances between at least these different opportunities, (and with some way of leveling the field considering available talent pools and resources)...

    -Professional Equity all positions, permanent venue (IRT, Beef and Boards, Phoenix)
    -Professional Equity all positions, without permanent venue (Actors Theatre of Indiana)
    -Professional Equity, some positions, with other paid positions (Phoenix)
    -Professionally Managed, with mostly volunteer onstage talent (Indianapolis Civic, The Theatre Within, Carmel Repertory Theatre?)
    -Professionally Managed, with paid onstage talent (TOTS, The Childrens Museum)
    -Single production, all volunteer (EDGES, bare:the musical)
    -Single production, for what profit can be made (Fringe, ComedySportz, IndyProv, $3B)
    -Single Production professional, Equity or not (Broadway across America, ACT)

    I'd be interested in finding out what the Jeffs require for consideration, or what exactly the Barrymores award? If it can be done in a way that most of the theater community considers the award meaningful, I'm all for it. The League of Professionally Managed Theaters once attempted such awards. What League? Exactly. Corbin Patrick gave highly-coveted certificates...but only of shows he had seen.

    Encore judges are severely taxed in evaluating the relatively few shows they all must see. There is certainly no generally accepted group that could see every show in consideration for a town-wide award (nor any individual, for that matter. Sorry Amaryllis, Lou Harry, and Joe Boling.)

    Therefore, I suspect such a system would quickly devolve into a popularity contest which would, by and large, reward the largest, most popular and well-funded performances. A town-wide award only stirs up more rough to obscure the diamond. Sorry HART, or ShadowApe.
  • The Best lists... I trust a committee more. (Sorry, everyone else.) Just like Sanjaya was kept in American Idol far too long last year, sometimes, people can get it wrong. Some people only attend one theatre or one music venue, and so to them, that's the best. Some people put a lot of stock in titles like Nuvo's Best Pick, so they get everyone and their mother to vote for their organization.

    I don't put much stock in Nuvo's Best Picks, but I know other people probably do, so I get annoyed when I see something that just doesn't seem right.
  • I was JUST this morning thinking about this very topic! I am almost at the end of my year-long gig as an Encore judge on top of being a blogger/reviewer of other shows and I am EXHAUSTED. I need to do some serious thinking about how I am going to continue my theatre review blog after August.

    But now my lunch break from my day job is almost over, so I'll have to wait 'til tonight to write more. In the meantime, I'll be interested to read what others have to say.

    Hope Baugh (aka Amaryllis on Indiana Auditions)
    Indy Theatre Habit
  • Indy used to have Corbin Patrick Awards, for professionally managed theaters. It only lasted a few short years because of in-fighting and Equity vs. non-Equity squabbling. In any event, I doubt that they sold tix and didn't do more than massage or crush egos.

    Based upon those that are usually making the best-of picks in Indianapolis, I don't find any of them useful or helpful.
  • If I were to trust a vote, it would be one that's based on somewhat better information than the A-List selections on The Indy Channel. The best theatre group category includes something called the Best Fun Party Company (where folks can rent moonwalks and such) and at least two groups which, to the best of my knowledge, are no longer operating.
  • I agree that there is little value in typical bests lists - particularly those based on general public voting. It's too easy to manipulate these type of situations. However, I do see some value when writers (Lou included) express their opinion of what they think was a best of what they saw.

    As for Encore, I imagine it may eventually fall the way of the Corbin Patrick Awards. It is very difficult to have theaters create a group to judge itself, and hope that politics, personalities, or preferences won't get involved.

    I LOVE the Jeff awards in Chicago. I have been lucky enough to see shows that are Jeff Recommended and as a patron, I find them to be very accurate. I only wish they extended into community theater in the area, but with so much professional theaters, and its foundation in professional theater, its understandable.

    If Indianapolis could figure out how to do our version of a Jeff Awards, I'd be all for it. I would just hope there would be a way to include all levels of the art - professionally managed, all volunteer, original work, small budget, etc. Heaven forbid anyone ever receive an award for creating something great for no pay with no money and its an original idea!

    If this could happen, tell me where to send the check to support it!
  • There is a lot of useful info on the jeffawards dot org website. For example, the judges' committee can,and currently does, consist of up to 45 judges. FORTY-FIVE!

    (I think we're down to me and three other people judging Encore plays this year, and me and maybe five other people judging Encore musicals. Four of us are seeing and judging everything: 50+ shows.)

    I definitely am in favor of having lots of judges. This is not the same as having the people decide via anonymous, online voting.

    You can read a profile of each Jeff judge's experience, too. Not surprisingly, there are LOTS of retired people on the judging committee, but not everyone is. There's a pretty good mix of backgrounds, I think, based on just a quick skim.

    I love this quote from the About the Jeff Awards page:

    The Committee does not endorse the use of the words best or winner. There are no losers in the Chicago theatre community, and Jeff recipients are cited for outstanding achievement rather than the more competitive notion of best.

    To determine the Tony Awards, over 700 judges from around the country see around 20 shows. The Tony Awards dot com website says that judges come from various groups of theatre big-wigs AND those persons whose names appear on the first night press lists.

    (Hah! That's who I want to be some day, after I retire from my day job: someone on the first night press lists for Broadway theatres. I'll have a closet full of feather boas to wear on opening nights, and I'll take my notes with a diamond-encrusted pen on a gilt-edged notepad. But I digress...)

    I don't know anything about the Barrymore awards, but it would be easy to keep researching.

    It seems to me that the first step in trying again to have meaningful awards for all kinds of Indianapolis theatre is to NOT try to reinvent the wheel but to see how other communities recognize and encourage excellence in all kinds of local theatre. How have other cities solved the problems mentioned by everyone in this thread?

    Hope Baugh
    Indy Theatre Habit
  • PS - I saw more than 50 shows in 2007. I saw more than 100 shows in 2008. I have seen more than 50 shows already in 2009.

    The more shows I see, the more confident I feel about sharing my opinion of shows in public, but the less interested I am in declaring which one was the best.

    I only realized this about myself tonight. Huh.

    Hope Baugh
    Indy Theatre Habit
  • But in the clear light of day, I remembered that I do enjoy looking at best lists out of curiousity. They usually have nothing to do with me or my real life, but I enjoy looking at them.

    For example, remember when Places Rated or Money Magazine or someone said that Minneapolis was the best place to live? I laughed out loud when I read that. Minneapolis is COLD! No way I'd live there just because some list said it was The Best. But I enjoyed thinking about it.

    And now, Lou, you've got me curious what your bests of 2009 would be. At the end of the year, out of everything you've seen and experienced, arts-wise, a) what categories emerge, and b) which experience would you rank best in each category?

    The categories interest me as much as the winners themselves.

    I'm also thinking that maybe it would be fun to establish my own awards. Just for fun. Just as an exercise. Hmm.

    Anyway, thanks for the good food for thought.

    Hope Baugh
    Indy Theatre Habit
  • Hope,
    I post a Best-I've-Seen list in the last IBJ of every year. It covers theater, music, visual art, dance, etc.
    Most of the slots are easy to fill. I just think of the shows and exhibitions from the year that I couldn't wait to tell people about after seeing them.
  • In the current economy, I would think a best value might actual interest a lot of people. Sort of a cost versus enjoyment.

    For example - I enjoyed seeing Wicked at the Murat, but I wouldn't describe is as a best value compared to some of the shows I've seen at Indy Fringe in the past (that entire event is a best value in my opinion). The cost to see Wicked and my full enjoyment might have been equal - but in my mind - a best value would be feeling that you enjoyed it more than what it cost.

    I do like the idea of removing best from the equation - i.e the posting on the Jeff Awards. Outstanding value or significant achievement - might be the best way to go.

    Encourage - not discourage!
  • Thanks, Lou, for telling me about your end-of-the-year list. How could I have missed that before? Did I really not become one of your blog groupies until after the first of this year?! I feel as if I have always been one. (hee hee)

    Aaron, I agree with you about the Indy Fringe Festival being a best value.

    After my first year at the Fringe (2007), I declared a handful of Amaryllis Awards on Indiana Auditions just for fun. They included best Fringe bathroom because, c'mon, you need to know where it is!

    But I don't suppose a theatre wants to hang a framed award or display a trophy for that in its lobby.

    Ah, well.

    Hope Baugh
    Indy Theatre Habit
  • The only value I find from Best of... lists is the chance of finding a store, restaurant, attraction, etc. that I didn't previously know about.

    And I tend to totally disregard lists that list Chili's or Applebee's as the best casual restaurant.


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