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TBA Online: News & Features: December 2018

The Business of Show Biz: Awards Season Blues

Saturday, December 15, 2018   (1 Comments)
Posted by: Rotimi Agabiaka
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by Velina Brown

Q: I want to ask for your thoughts on a situation that I struggle with every year. As a kid, I always dreamed that the pinnacle of my career would be getting an Oscar or some other acting award. Over the years, though, I've worked hard to build the kind of career that doesn't really attract accolades: I find real joy in playing supporting characters (I think I'm damn good at it) or working as a member of a tight ensemble. I'm aware that some of the best acting work doesn't draw attention to itself but serves up the story in a seamless, selfless way, helping another character to shine because that's what the story requires.

So I have never won an award, and most of the year I'm fine with that. I would prefer being a beloved member of a strong community to being alone at the top of the pile. But around this time of year it gets hard to hold on to that wisdom, and I find myself wondering if I'm just maybe not very good after all. Maybe all that is just my excuse. The little kid who wanted a medal gets very discouraged! 

But I also wonder how good these awards are for our community in general. Should artists really be judged against each other, as if you can compare different productions and performances? Who benefits when we hold a ceremony to agree that one actor's performance is “better” than another's? Does that kind of competition make for better theatre in the long-run? It is possible that I'm taking this all too seriously, but I would love to know your thoughts, and what the award ceremonies mean to you as a working actor.

Actor and career consultant Velina Brown.

 

A: I agree with you that the whole awards thing is awkward when it comes to art. Comparing different productions and performances can be like comparing apples and oranges. I think this is why some ceremonies, like the Theatre Bay Area awards, are changing the language. Instead of saying “and the winner is”, they say “and the award goes to”. Instead of the categories being called “best” actor/director/sound design, they are called “outstanding” to recognize that an artist’s work may be outstanding according to those making the nominations but it doesn’t mean they are THE BEST or better in general than everyone else. I think those language adjustments put things in perspective. 

Are you taking it all too seriously? I don’t know. Your feelings are your feelings. I’m certain though that you are not alone. The awards season frenzy can be a bit draining if you feel like you’re on the outside looking in. Most times I’m too face down in whatever I’m working on to even notice it’s awards season. But every now and then I too can I feel a twinge. Full disclosure, I have received a couple of Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle Awards over the many years I’ve been acting. I’ve also been part of some casts that have been awarded Outstanding Ensemble. And it is fun to be recognized in that way. But the awards don’t mean that I was good the couple of times I received one and bad all the other times I didn’t. If you are working regularly in a competitive market you’re likely pretty good!

So what meaning or purpose can awards and awards ceremonies have for the community? Awards ceremonies are an opportunity for the community to come together and celebrate the amazing work of the past season. This season I was happy to help out again at the TBA Awards by being a presenter. It was fun to see so many friends and colleagues all dressed up and I enjoyed seeing the performances of folks who were finalists (another important language change). It was an inspiring evening. 

Awards ceremonies also give the community the chance to recognize someone not just for their work on one role in one show but for a lifetime of great work. At the 2014 TBA  Awards my husband, Michael Gene Sullivan, and I had the distinct honor of presenting the late, great Joan Mankin with the TBA Legacy Award for her lifetime of contributions to our theatre community. I feel such gratitude that she was honored before she passed away.

So, I’m torn. While I acknowledge that so many people who deserve recognition haven’t yet received awards I’m also happy for those who have. We all work so hard to live an artist’s life. When that effort is recognized, it’s a lovely thing. 

You know, the legendary Cicely Tyson FINALLY won an honorary Academy Award on November 18, 2018, just shy of her 94th birthday. Upon receiving the award she said, “This is a culmination of all those years of haves and have nots.” Even at this stage of her life it was meaningful to her that she was at long last acknowledged with the award. Had she not lived to be nearly 100 years old she would never have been. It certainly wouldn’t have meant that she was “not very good after all.”

So, my friend, just keep on doing your beautiful work for as long as doing so brings you joy. And as my grandmother would say, “Keep on livin”. 

Velina Brown is an actor and career consultant. Send her your questions at velina@businessofshowbiz.com

 Postscript from Dale Albright, Deputy Director (dale@theatrebayarea.org)

What a lovely, honest letter and equally lovely response. Awards season can indeed be fraught for many and as an artist and administrator for the TBA Awards I can certainly identify with all angles of that tension. While I realize that this letter isn’t directly referencing our own awards system, I can see how it might play a part in the aggregate of feelings in this season and in particular the question of “how good these awards are for our community in general” struck me.

Going on eight years ago when our awards planning started in earnest, the decision to host an awards program was not an easy one. Ultimately though we felt that there were some overarching goals that, if supported with as much care and attention as we could possibly bring to them, would actually benefit the community.

One major purpose of an awards program such as ours is to bring a spotlight to the theatre community as a whole. Awards ceremonies bring press and public attention, not just to individual artists but to the entire field. As the phrase goes: “A rising tide lifts all boats”. It gives us the chance, as a service organization, to  say to the world: “Look how much diverse theatre is in this fantastic region!”.

Another purpose was to introduce theatre companies and artists to members of the field who might not have heard of them otherwise or haven’t seen their work before. We hear from adjudicators all the time that they are thankful to have access to performance that they just wouldn’t have experienced otherwise.

Last thing to mention is that we aim to uplift as much of the community as possible through the weekly “recommended” productions. This gives producers immediate feedback while the show is still open to hopefully gather some attention while audiences can still see it (or a future production).

Thanks for the question and for the thoughtful answer, Velina!

Comments...

Elizabeth Finkler says...
Posted Wednesday, January 2, 2019
On the subject of weekly "recommended" productions, any chance of occasionally sending evaluators to non-Equity shows in the South Bay?