DC: Awards matter

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It’s the fourth day of the American Theatre Critics Association annual conference and my feet or sore, my eyes a little glazed over, and my excitement about theater and its potential increased.

Here are some notes:

* One of the factors credited with galvanizing D.C. theater was the creation of the Helen Hayes Awards. Like Chicago’s Jeff’s and Philly’s Barrymores, these awards honor outstanding professional theater. We’ve got nothing like that in Indy, but I’m hoping we’re getting near a time when it’s possible. Forget the “arts shouldn’t compete” arguement. As Chicago, Philly and Washington have demonstrated, honoring excellence encourages excellence.

* Is it dance? Is it theater? Prior to attending Synetic Theatre’s “Carmen,” we were told that its choreographer is always nominated and usually wins her Helen Hayes Award category. After the show, there was much debate about whether what we saw–outstanding, by the way–qualifies as a play or dance production. Irrevlevant? Not to marketers–or the awards committee.

I sided with the “dance” side. I also sided with those who insisted that this group start touring. Clowes Hall and Pike Performing Arts Center, go ahead and make the call (the DC critics also raveda bout Synetic’s wordless “Hamlet.”)

* The legendary Chita Rivera. The great George Hearn. The incomperable songwriting team of Kander & Ebb. The voice of award-winning writer Terrence McNally. The Signature Theatre’s production of the new musical “The Visit” makes the case that all the elements can be in place but without a satisfying ending, it’s nearly impossible for an audience to fall hard for a musical. This is an admirable effort — improving over Chicago’s Goodman Theatre’s premiere of the piece about seven years ago  — but it’s still not quite there. There’s buzz of a New York run, but work still needs to be done to make it a show that audiences are going to insist their friends go see.

* Line of the day goes to Leonard Jacobs, National Theatre Editor for Backstage who, when seeing the Signature Theatre’s black box space filled with long dinner tables (set for over 100 of us critics) topped with rows of over-the-top candlesticks, stated, “I’m waiting for an owl to fly down and deliver my grades.”

* Sorry I missed Ice-T with the Indianapolis Symphony on Wednesday. Anybody catch it?

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