Thursday, April 1, 2010

Info on SF Critics Circle + Thoughts on Awards

The San Francisco Bay Area Critics Circle posted nominations for their annual awards a few weeks back which sparked some questions from local theater makers on the SFBATCC in particular and debate about awards/press coverage in general. This post is an attempt to shine some light on the working of the SFBATCC and kick around some thoughts on awards. (Full Disclosure: PianoFight and Original Sin's co-pro of "Pulp Scripture" was nominated for two SFBATCC awards).

The whole concept of awards can be seen as a bit idiotic - a bunch of people patting each other on the back for essentially doing their job. However, don't most businesses do this in some form or another? (think Employee of the Month)

There is general debate about whether awards are necessary, and the simple answer is no, they're not. But that doesn't mean the SF Theater Scene should just forget about them. Awards are used to highlight excellence and I'd argue more importantly, to market the industry. The Oscars bumped up their Best Film nominees to ten this year in large part due to the ticket sales and awareness that result from a Best Film nomination. Locally, I'm sure the reason the SF Fringe gives Sold Out awards to every sold out performance at the festival is in part to encourage performers to heavily promote their shows. (For a great post on why awards are great tools and how they could run more effectively, and to see just how behind SF is on the awards front, check out LA producer Rick Culbertson's blog)

So assuming that awards are inherently good for awareness, ticket sales, and generally speaking, the bottom line, I emailed Critics Circle member (and all around awesome dude) Tom Kelly to get some more info on the SFBATCC, and here's the synopsis:

CB: How do journalists get on the Critics Circle?
TK: In the past, membership in the Critics Circle has been by invitation. Circle members (via the Membership Chairman) invited members of the print media press to join us. Nowadays, with blogging and online reviews, the world of theatre reviewing has opened tremendously. And the Circle is still trying to figure out how to pick through the multitude of online reviewers to invite the best (and most dedicated to theatre coverage) to join us.
CB: Is the Critics Circle funded by any person, group of people, or organization?
TK: No. All of the Circle does their nominating, voting, event-night-work for FREE ... The only function of the Circle, the way I see it, is to see theatre (as much as our lives permit) through the year, to nominate and vote for what we think is the very best, and then to announce and applaud that excellence.
The SFBATCC is essentially a bunch of theater critics who love theater so much, they give up their time and energy to see tons of it, organize themselves enough to get a consensus on what was the best, then throw a party for Scene to honor that excellence. Pretty awesome.

But as with anything, there are definitely areas which could be improved upon. As I see it, there are two main problems with how the Critics Circle is set up right now:

A) They have no website
B) There is no organization, producing entity or fiscal sponsor behind the Circle (NOTE: Actors' Equity is sponsoring the awards ceremony though it's not clear exactly how involved they are with that event or with the SFBATCC in general)

Having no website means that there is really no effective way to communicate with the community. TBA tries to help by posting up the nominees and winners on its website, but even that's not enough. There is no place people can go to see who is on the Critics Circle, why the Critics Circle exists, how the Critics Circle operates or how to get involved and support. Failing to provide basic information to the public can appear like secrecy and raise suspicions, and the inability to calm these suspicions and answer basic questions leads to frustration which the Critics Circle can never really respond to because it doesn't have a website.

And I'll bet the simple reason the SFBATCC has no website is because there is nobody to pay for it, create it or update it, because there is no private or public entity backing the Circle.

So the question becomes, how do we solve this problem? How do we embrace the basic concept of honoring outstanding work for the purposes of awareness and marketing, and move the only big theater awards in SF from the questionable fringes into the thriving center of the scene?

Theater Bay Area could probably help organize awards, and to their credit, I think the organization has tried to in the past (going to forward this post to TBA's marketing director Clay Lord and see what he thinks). Some of the larger theater companies (ACT, Berkeley Rep, The Magic etc) could also get involved and provide some interns to help organize/email or provide a venue etc.

But until we have a big enough entity willing to put their time, energy and cred on the line for the community, we're going to run with those bunch of theater crazy critics at the SFBATCC.

CB: So what's up with the big hoopla Awards party?
TK: Before the dot-com bust, we celebrated every year with large parties of 400+ theatre-folk coming together as a community to honor our best achievements. For the last eight years, due to no money, we cut back to a small winners-only event which precluded the community celebration. This is our first attempt at returning to the large-scale "let's party" event (and this year, we're on a shoestring budget). Help spread the word cause it's going to be a grrrreat party!
The San Francisco Bay Area Critics Circle Awards Ceremony will be held at the Palace of Fine Arts Theatre, Monday, May 3, 2010 at 6:00pm. Tickets are $20.

The following is a list of Critics Circle members in 2009, as put together by Theatre Bay Area in its "Sources of Publicity" book:

Jerry Friednman (President)
KGO Radio

Joe Marchi (VP, Newsletter Editor)
Pacifica Community TV

Jeff Smith (Treasurer)
The Carrier

Richard Connema (Awards Co-Chair)

Tom Kelly (Awards Co-Chair)
SF Bay Times

Kedar K. Adour MD
Theatre World Internet Magazine

Linda Ayres-Frederick
SF Bay Times

Carol Benet
The Ark,

Charles Brousse
Marin Independent Journal

Ken Bullock
The Commuter Times

Mario Echevarria
SF Tribune

Albert Goodwyn
SF Bay Times

John Angell Grant
Burlingame Daily News, Palo Alto Daily News
Redwood City Daily News, San Mateo Daily News

Robert Lee Hall
Piedmont Post

Sally Hogarty
Contra Costa Times

Charles Jarrett
Rossmoor News

David Kashimba
Joint Forces Journal Web Site

Mark Langton
Marin Independent Journal

Dr. Annette Lust
West of Twin Peaks Observer

Georgia Rowe
SF Examiner,

Judy Richter

David Templeton
North Bay Bohemian

Barry Willis
Marin Independent Journal, Pacific Sun

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Rob, thank you for posting all this info about the Critics Circle. We appreciate your help very much. The San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle (the Circle) is an ever-evolving group of hardworking individuals doing our best.
To clarify a few points:
(1) Awards definitely aren’t idiotic… they are much-needed acknowledgement of hard work and oftentimes the only compensation given (many artists are not paid) to our dedicated theatre folk. Awards are also invaluable tools for theatre artists seeking grants, applying to schools/training, demonstrating their excellence on resumes, bios, job applications, and more.
(2) This is the 34th year (!) that the Circle has presented awards for outstanding theatrical achievement. Over the course of 34 years, we've given our time (thousands of hours) freely to do what we love and believe to spread the good word about Bay Area theatre excellence.
(2) Yes, we need a Website. We’re looking into this but must wait until after this year’s awards are given. We’re a bit busy right now, grin.
(3) There is no secrecy. What would the "secrets" be? We see lots of theatre, we nominate and vote on what we consider to be the most outstanding, and we celebrate that excellence with an annual event. It’s really that simple.
(4) There are about 300 theatre companies registered with Theatre Bay Area, and we attend as many of their plays as possible. With each company producing 3 to 10 shows per year, that’s a helluva lot of theatre. We try our best.
(5) Come one, come all to join in the spirit of camaraderie at the May 3rd Awards! The party is FOR and ABOUT all of you! And to each of you… Bravo!
Tickets are available either at the door ($20 cash please) or
-Tom Kelly, SFBATCC