Friday, May 8, 2009

Theater Awards FAIL.

About a month ago, the Bay Area Critics Circle announced their nominations for their yearly awards. Now, I know this is going to be a touchy subject, but I want to say up front that I am sure all of the nominated people and productions do great work, and are excessively talented at working a stage. What kills me, and in my opinion what is killing the industry, is the consistent staging and subsequent rewarding of work that has already been done, frequently ad nauseum.

I'll stick to the under 100-seat house section of the awards (cause that's what I know and do), specifically the Best Entire Production nominees.

The Ladies of the Camellias - Lillian Groag, written 1993
Dead Mother or Shirley Not All in Vain - David Greenspan, written 1990
Endgame - Samuel Beckett, written 1957
Victims of Duty - Eugene Ionesco, written 1953
Macbeth - Williams Shakespeare, written 1604
Taming of the Shrew - William Shakespeare, written 1590

This is not only shameful, it's stupid. Have the Grammys ever filled the Best Song category full of covers? Or have the Oscars ever nominated five remakes of films to the Best Film category? Are Pulitzers given out to rewrites every year?

Obviously, the answer is a resounding no - because an utter lack of new work would kill the industry. Again, I want to stress that I'm sure the people and productions were all very good, but this is just ridiculous.

None of the nominated plays were written this decade. One third of the nominees were written 400 years ago. The two Shakespeare's and one Beckett have no doubt been performed countless times, in countless cities, by countless performers, and have put countless people to sleep (me included).

I'm not arguing that the Classics should never be performed. They're called classics because they are great plays and should continue to be produced. But exactly how does Theater expect to attract new audiences and stay relevant by consistently staging and rewarding work that has already been done?


Anonymous said...

For what its worth, "Dead Mother" was a Bay Area Premiere of a show no one has ever seen, at least West of the Hudson. And honestly, no one saw it in NY either.

It was also the best show I saw last year, by far.

The least of our problems with awards and the critic's circle is the year the shows were written. The fact that the awards are given out by about 20 bloggers who live all over the Bay Area, and cannot get to even a small percentage of show, is the main problem.

Carl Benson said...

I would add that if those 20 writers can only get to a small percentage of Bay Area shows, why on Earth are they seeing the 500 billionth re-staging of MacBeth?

I'll give you "Dead Mother," I'm sure it was excellent and I'd forgotten that it was a premiere. More theater companies should focus on premiering work. But I still think constantly re-staging work that has already been done ad nauseum, and the writers who subsequently reward those productions, even if they are fantastic productions, is a huge problem for the industry.

Theater's obsession with redoing old work is unhealthy. Compare it to a similar industry, music, and look at how much of what is produced every year in music is new, versus how much is reworked old material. There is no comparison.

I don't how many times I've seen MacBeth. A fucking lot. But this director's take vs. that director's vision usually just make the play bad. And I just don't want to see some story I already know the ending to, and I think there are a lot of people like me in that regard.

Marisela said...

Hello again Carl,

I think "theatre's obsession with old work" may be tied to the larger question about how theatres are running in general. That is they're looking for low-risk profit generating shows. Or perhaps I'm being a little cynical. I guess I would want to know why a theatre is doing Hamlet, what new perspective are they offering on a play that's been around for ages.

I also would like to see our local theatre's do more premieres or second productions of new work.

Though, I will say I saw Victims of Duty and it was an awesome production.

Carl Benson said...

Halo again Marisela!

"I saw Victims of Duty and it was an awesome production."

This is what bugs me - I'm sure all of the shows on that Critics Circle list were really good. Or else why would the learned critics award them. But if these companies are capable of producing excellent work, which, no doubt, they are, can they please do some new stuff already?

You're dead right on the "low-risk profit generating shows" - that's why Neil Simon is produced every other weekend by some company or another. Neil Simon just isn't as funny or relevant as he used to be - comedy has evolved as has the social landscape about which he was writing.

Me thinks the theater scene needs some, how you say? Ah yes, BALLS.