Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Glickman Awards

This past Sunday, I attended the ceremony for the Glickman Award, decided by five local critics and given to the best new play from the previous year.

Armed with a small flask of Jameson, I met Jessica Holt (Threshold/Three Wise Monkeys) and Bennett Fisher (Theatre Pub) at Starbucks, spiked our respective caffeinated beverages (Jessica abstained from spiking), and moseyed over to the San Francisco War Memorial and Performing Arts Center where we were greeted warmly by croissants and free mimosas. The whole brunch was great and TBA did a hell of a job - many thanks to the TBA staff who organized and worked the event and specifically Gina Baleria who invited the three of us to be guests at her table.

We schmoozed like crazy, spilled drinks, they gave me left over food to take back to PianoFight's starving actors, and I'm relatively certain I made an ass of myself in front of Peter Sinn Nachtrieb. So all in all, shit was awesome.

Later that day I posted a thought I'd had about the Award on Facebook: "Carl Benson wonders if a new play which premiered at The Phoenix, Climate, Exit, or any other relatively small venue could ever win the Glickman Award ...

For what I believed to be a pretty innocuous comment, the response was amazing: 17 comments over 24 hours on topics from past winners to house size to the merits of bigger companies winning to a new kind of Bay Area theater award.

I even got a few personal messages about it, specifically one from Glickman Award critic Sam Hurwitt, who informed me:
"Hunter Gatherers premiered at the 85-seat Thick House, which seems to be the venue that's produced more Glickman winners than any other space, produced by a variety of companies. I don't think there's a list online of past winners, but I believe this is all of 'em. As it turns out, 5 of the last 10 winners (and 6 of the last 11) opened in theaters of fewer than 99 seats.

2010 In the Next Room, Sarah Ruhl (Berkeley Rep)
2009 Beowulf, Jason Craig (Shotgun Players)
2008 Tings Dey Happen, Dan Hoyle (Marsh)
2007 Hunter Gatherers, Peter Sinn Nachtrieb (Killing My Lobster)
2006 The People’s Temple, Leigh Fondakowski (Berkeley Rep)
2005 Dog Act, Liz Duffy Adams (Shotgun)
2004 Soul of a Whore, Denis Johnson (Campo Santo)
2003 Five Flights, Adam Bock (Encore)
2002 Dominant Looking Males, Brighde Mullins (Thick Description)
2001 Everything’s Ducky, Bill Russell & Jeffrey Hatcher (TheatreWorks)
2000 The Trail of Her Inner Thigh, Erin Cressida Wilson (Campo Santo)
1999 Combat!, John Fisher (Rhino)
1998 Civil Sex, Brian Freeman (Marsh)
1997 Hurricane/Mauvais Temps, Anne Galjour (Berkeley Rep)
1996 Medea, the Musical, John Fisher (Sassy Mouth)
1995 Rush Limbaugh in Night School, Charlie Varon (Marsh)
1994 Santos & Santos, Octavio Solis (Thick Description)
1993 Heroes and Saints, Cherrie Moraga (Brava)
1992 Angels in America: Millennium Approaches, Tony Kushner (Eureka)
1991 Political Wife, Bill Talen (Life on the Water)
1990 Pick Up Ax, Anthony Clarvoe (Eureka)
1989 Yankee Dawg You Die, Philip Kan Gotanda (Berkeley Rep)
1988 Webster Street Blues, Warren Kubota (Asian American)
1987 Life of the Party, Doug Holsclaw (Rhino)
1986 Deer Rose, Tony Pelligrino (Theatre on the Square)
1985 The Couch, Lynne Kaufman (Magic)
1984 Private Scenes, Joel Homer (Magic)
(thanks to Claire Rice who also forwarded me this list)

So, I was wrong about the small house thing yes - plays in smaller houses can win this award. However, take a look at that list and tell me if any patterns pop out.

Do you see it?

Berkeley Rep - 4 wins
The Marsh - 3 wins
Thick House - 2 wins
Magic - 2 wins
Shotgun - 2 wins
Rhino - 2 wins
Eureka - 2 wins
Campo Santo - 2 wins

Of the 27 total awards given since 1984, 19 were awarded to the same 8 companies. Put another way, in almost three decades of the Glickman, eight Bay Area theater companies have won %70 of the time.

According to TBA's own statistics, there are over 400 local companies in the Bay Area. The Bay Area is also supposedly the third largest theater market in the country (this is calculated per-capita as opposed to sheer volume of theater). Over the last few years there have been somewhere between 100-400 new plays produced each year. And in this massive theater mecca which churns out obscene amounts of new content, the same eight companies have won the Best New Play award more than two thirds of the times it has been given.

I want to be crystal clear on this point: I am not passing judgment on past winners - plays or companies. A big part of the reason these companies continue to win is that they are awesome.

But, looking at those numbers above, I think it's pretty clear that a show with a substantial budget has a far better shot at winning than a show with a budget typical to small, nomadic theater. Just look at the theaters absent from this list: Boxcar, Climate, Phoenix, Dark Room, Garage, CounterPULSE, The Exit, Off-Market and that's just the ones I could think of off the top of my head which reside within the San Francisco city limits.

Part of the goal behind The Glickman Award, is to raise the profile of the new work scene in the Bay Area. It's a noble goal, and one that I respect. And I get that to raise that profile, you've got to pick plays that are flat out amazing and have an iron clad shot at going on tour or moving to Broadway or winning other awards.

However I do wonder if critics/patrons/the community itself is overlooking a huge part of that new work scene - small theater.

Thanks for Reading,


CORRECTION: I had initially written that Intersection had never won a Glickman - Sam Hurwitt caught this error and I revised it (Campo Santo is the resident company at Intersection).

Sam also mentioned that he thinks "Political Wife" might have premiered at Climate. Does anyone know for certain? I'll email Jessica Heidt about it and post my findings.


Claire Rice said...

So, should we now find out exactly how many plays considered themselves to be world premiers last year?

Carl Benson said...


Claire Rice said...

Best. Answer. Ever. I'll get you a beer.