Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Awards and Coverage

Talking about theatre awards seems tiring before you even start. Better, usually, to just congratulate everybody.

Both Thom Garvey and Bill Marx, each in their own way, wonder about the IRNE's and Elliot Norton Awards. (Boston's two sets of theatre awards.)

One thing that unites both Mr. Garvey and Mr. Marx is Man of LaMancha.

Here is Thom Garvey:

The recent Norton Awards only reminded me of the wayward nature of award committees. Not that the IRNEs are any less error-prone - I mean seriously, Man of La Mancha? (I didn't even see it, btw - I hate that fucking show.)

Here is Marx:

As for the Independent Reviewers of New England (IRNE) Awards, best production nods went to “Man of La Mancha”!!! and “A Streetcar Named Desire.” The Williams is a great but weary-to-the-bone warhorse and who under 60 years of age is excited to see how “To Dream the Impossible Dream” holds up? Harold Pinter’s “No Man’s
Land,” which premiered in 1975 and won IRNE’s Best Play award, looks cutting edge in comparison.

Each poses questions that are interesting:

Garvey asks if there might not be room for an new award?

Marx says it is fair enough for theaters to program geriatric fare or boomer safe offerings in order to survive economically, but should awards be given for that programming?

I'm tired already.


BJ said...

I don't much care for these awards rituals anyway, so perhaps I'm just confused...but aren't these awards supposed to say that the production was excellent? And not that the play itself is Teh Best Evar?

Thomas Garvey said...

I think you make Marx's point better than he did himself, Art - but the question is, which productions would Marx prefer get the awards? There was one glaring gap in the respective line-ups - the Gurnet Theatre Project should have been recognized by both (their next production is Adam Rapp's Essential Self-Defense). Beyond that, younger companies, and their material, did get a bit more recognition than Marx implies. Company One has been recognized by both the Nortons and the IRNEs, and Whistler in the Dark won a Norton for The Possibilities (it's arguable their recent work has been as strong). There are, of course, other worthy companies still on the edge of the radar, but perhaps due to my own gaps in attendance, I can't think of any that leap to mind as having been overlooked for Nortons or IRNEs. Of course that still doesn't explain Man of LaMancha (I'm sorry, Man fans, but like everyone who adores Don Quixote, I detest that musical).

Art said...

Hi BJ,

True enough. The award for Best Production is an award for the entire production, which is a team of set designers, actors, stage managers, etc. But, remember, the award is usually given to the Theatre Company itself. And the play itself should have at least a variable in the equation.

To Marx's point, he is saying that if the Theater Company leadership is programming safer fare, why should "critics" reward that choice.

I don't want to speak for Thom or Bill, but it would appear they are saying: If even "critics" are awarding best production to stalwart 1950's fare, or safer programming, then guess what you are going to continue to get?

Of course this is all ideological on either side.

But then again, let's remember, The Lyric, who brought us Man of LaMancha, also brought us The Goat, Dying City, Three Tall Women, A Number, etc.

Thomas Garvey said...

I certainly don't mean to knock the Lyric by savaging Man of LaMancha - hell, it probably paid for The Goat! I just question, given that it's such a sentimental travesty of its source, whether even a superb production could raise it to the level of art.

Which leads me to another thought about Marx's comments - isn't his argument rather more problematic than he imagines? He seems on the one hand to be dissing the "safe" choices of the Nortons and IRNEs as favoring the tastes of the older generation. But couldn't the younger generation's taste be just as "safe," as determined by their own perspective? Consider the case of the musical Spring Awakening, widely praised as being as edgy and "new" - more sophisticated observers, however, noted that it ignored, or subverted, the subtleties of the Wedekind original. A new, hard-rock Man of LaMancha, perhaps?

In short, even Bill Marx seems to imply that he'd favor weak new art just because it's new, that its newness has some intrinsic artistic value. I'm not sure what that even means, myself, but it seems to be a common meme. I think the bottom line is that genuine excellence should transcend generational prejudice - shouldn't it? It might well be a mistake to trade one audience's blinders for another's.

Julie O. said...

What's interesting to me is how people talk about "safe" plays or "geriatric fare" or "boomer safe offerings" when it's very possible that there is an entire market of potential theatregoers who haven't seen a majority of these plays that we theatrephiles consider over-produced and safe. From the perspective of producing and watching thousands of dollars flow into a production and praying a close proximity flows from it, it seems to me we're ignoring what the market demands. If people want to see what we call safe, baby boomer, or geriatric fare, then why is it a crime to award that when it is well-produced and well-received? Especially if the same theatre companies are including new works in their line-up. But even if they're not. Is it wrong to produce a succesful show and be awarded for it when that show may very well attract a whole demographic of theatregoers that might otherwise pass on The History Boys or The Memory of Water for that matter? And oh by the way, having had such a positive theatre-going experience, those same people might very well venture closer to the deep end of newer works. - Julie O.

Art said...

Hi Julie,

Thanks for the comment.

In fact, I agree on most of what you are saying.

But I think Thomas Garvey brings up the point best when he questions whether or not Man of La Mancha rises to the level of great or even good art, regardless of whether or not audiences enjoyed it.

You say:

If people want to see what we call safe, baby boomer, or geriatric fare, then why is it a crime to award that when it is well-produced and well-received? Especially if the same theatre companies are including new works in their line-up.

Nobody is saying it is a "crime" to award those shows. Everybody, including me, is acknowledging the production of those shows as a necessary reality of the subscription based theater model.

The question is merely raised to ask what do the awards mean?

Even the Academy Awards make their mistakes, but last year the box office top ten were the following:
Spider Man 3
Shrek 3
Pirates of the Caribbean 3
Harry Potter 5
I Am Legend
The Bourne Ultimatum
National Treasure: Book of Secrets
Alvin and the Chipmunks

Everybody worked hard on those films, and they were great technical achievements. They gave the audience what they wanted to see. etc.

But not even one of these appeared in the list of movies nominated for Best Picture. (This is not always the case, I understand that.)

But even in money-driven Hollywood the awards that are issued and voted on by those within their own ranks try, (though they often fail,) to look through the mist of pure audience enjoyment, box office return and technical skill when they are awarding the best picture.

The question is really, what are the awards for?

Julie O. said...

Those films may not have earned a Best Picture nom but their Oscar history (or that of their predecessors) does little to support the argument that public demand and award-worthiness are not necessarily related. I think they are inherently linked. The Oscar noms or awards that those films (or their predecessors) did garner are listed below to demonstrate the point. An asterisk indicates it was an Oscar winner. The fact that other films competed that exceeded their Best Picture worthiness is understandable. And it is to the Academy's credit that they do not pay (much) attention to box office receipts when determining the Best Picture noms.

If the question is "what are the awards for" then why not ask "what are they not for"? Sounds to me that some may assert they're not for awarding "commercial" productions or "geriatric fare" ... just an aside: why are senior citizens not considered a legitimate audience with the right to be enthralled and why would that demographic's taste be considered not award-worthy? Maybe they're not enthralled in the same way as an artistic audience of colleagues wants to be enthralled. But in the end, theater exists to move us, does it not? And if a child is moved by something that a senior citizen is not, and if a senior is moved by something that a theatre colleague is not moved by, then who's to say that one demographic's preference is more intrinsically valuable to society than another's? The awards committees apparently. And the critics. Great. Makes sense. I'm just saying, before we turn any noses up to the low brow appeal of, say, "Clue the Musical" (just an example, not yet produced in Boston:) let's maybe admit that it does come down to a matter of taste and the debate seems to assume that the perceived low brow fare is to be discouraged. We do live in a creative democracy, which I thought meant any societal cleansing, artistic or otherwise, is considered taboo. It comes down to taste, and what one person deems brilliant, another may deem pathetic. And if an award goes to something commercial or safe or geriatric, presuming it was a high quality production, the question is not so much what are the awards for, but rather what's so wrong with that, exactly? And did you see it? Or did anyone else poo-pooing it see it? Was it something my great aunt would like? If so, does that mean her taste is inferior to that of an award committee that should have laughed it off its short list? If they did, I have to think that would have an impact on what gets produced. I mean, how many Pulitzer Prize winners are Best-Sellers as well? Does it sway me as a reader or a theatregoer when I see that something won an award? You bet it does. And just think of all the poor Aunt Mary's and little Jimmy's whose choice of artistic nourishment is dwindled because their theatrical taste was considered not artistically valuable, and not award-worthy. - Julie O.

Spider Man 3

Columbia Pictures Production; Sony Pictures Releasing.
2002 (75th) SOUND -- Kevin O'Connell, Greg P. Russell, Ed Novick
VISUAL EFFECTS -- John Dykstra, Scott Stokdyk, Anthony LaMolinara, John Frazier

Spider-Man 2
Columbia Pictures Production; Sony Pictures Releasing.
2004 (77th) SOUND EDITING -- Paul N.J. Ottosson
SOUND MIXING -- Kevin O'Connell, Greg P. Russell, Jeffrey J. Haboush and Joseph Geisinger
* VISUAL EFFECTS -- John Dykstra, Scott Stokdyk, Anthony LaMolinara and John Frazier

Shrek 3

PDI/DreamWorks Production; DreamWorks.
2001 (74th) * ANIMATED FEATURE FILM -- Aron Warner
WRITING (Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published) -- Written by Ted Elliott & Terry Rossio and Joe Stillman and Roger S.H. Schulman

Shrek 2
PDI/DreamWorks Production; DreamWorks.
2004 (77th) ANIMATED FEATURE FILM -- Andrew Adamson
MUSIC (Original Song) -- "Accidentally In Love," Music by Adam Duritz, Charles Gillingham, Jim Bogios, David Immergluck, Matthew Malley and David Bryson; Lyric by Adam Duritz and Daniel Vickrey


Don Murphy/Tom DeSanto and Di Bonaventura Pictures Production; DreamWorks and Paramount in association with Hasbro.
2007 (80th) SOUND EDITING -- Ethan Van der Ryn and Mike Hopkins
SOUND MIXING -- Kevin O'Connell, Greg P. Russell and Peter J. Devlin
VISUAL EFFECTS -- Scott Farrar, Scott Benza, Russell Earl and John Frazier

Pirates of the Caribbean 3

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End
Walt Disney Pictures/Jerry Bruckheimer Films Production; Walt Disney.
2007 (80th) MAKEUP -- Ve Neill and Martin Samuel
VISUAL EFFECTS -- John Knoll, Hal Hickel, Charles Gibson and John Frazier

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest
Walt Disney Pictures/Jerry Bruckheimer Films Production; Buena Vista.
2006 (79th) ART DIRECTION -- Art Direction: Rick Heinrichs; Set Decoration: Cheryl Carasik
SOUND EDITING -- Christopher Boyes and George Watters II
SOUND MIXING -- Paul Massey, Christopher Boyes and Lee Orloff
* VISUAL EFFECTS -- John Knoll, Hal Hickel, Charles Gibson and Allen Hall

Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl
Walt Disney Pictures Production; Buena Vista.
2003 (76th) ACTOR IN A LEADING ROLE -- Johnny Depp {"Jack Sparrow"}
MAKEUP -- Ve Neill and Martin Samuel
SOUND EDITING -- Christopher Boyes and George Watters II
SOUND MIXING -- Christopher Boyes, David Parker, David Campbell and Lee Orloff
VISUAL EFFECTS -- John Knoll, Hal Hickel, Charles Gibson and Terry Frazee

Harry Potter 5

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
Warner Bros. Productions Ltd. Production; Warner Bros. [United Kingdom/U.S.A.]
2005 (78th) ART DIRECTION -- Art Direction: Stuart Craig; Set Decoration: Stephenie McMillan

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
Warner Bros. Productions Ltd./Heyday Films/1492 Pictures/P of A Production; Warner Bros.
2004 (77th) MUSIC (Original Score) -- John Williams
VISUAL EFFECTS -- Roger Guyett, Tim Burke, John Richardson and Bill George

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
Warner Bros. Ltd. Production; Warner Bros.
2001 (74th) ART DIRECTION -- Art Direction: Stuart Craig; Set Decoration: Stephenie McMillan
COSTUME DESIGN -- Judianna Makovsky
MUSIC (Original Score) -- John Williams

The Bourne Ultimatum
Universal Pictures Production; Universal.
2007 (80th) * FILM EDITING -- Christopher Rouse
* SOUND EDITING -- Karen Baker Landers and Per Hallberg
* SOUND MIXING -- Scott Millan, David Parker and Kirk Francis

Art said...


Your research on the awards actually goes more to proving the point Iwas making.

But you will get no absolutely no argument from me on some of your points. It is true that commercial success and popular reception does not exclude artistic excellence.

But in the end, theater exists to move us, does it not?

This is a very broad definition, but I'll play along, sure.

And if a child is moved by something that a senior citizen is not, and if a senior is moved by something that a theatre colleague is not moved by, then who's to say that one demographic's preference is more intrinsically valuable to society than another's?

I don't know that any art is directly valuable to "society", though I believe it is valuable to the soul of the individual though.

"Cleansing"?! Societal Cleansing!? Why not just say censorship? ;)

While I am all for "lowbrow" fare, I am not worried one single bit for popular entertainment's survival.

Mamma Mia does not need an award saying that it is The BEST MUSICAL produced on Broadway to help direct people who like ABBA songs to go enjoy ABBA songs. Nor do those people need a pat on the back to let them know that they did what they like to do. And yes, I saw it and had a great time as well.

(Actually, the Tony's at least break down the categories to allow for Best Revival, etc.)

Once again, there is nothing wrong with an award going to something that is a commercial success. Or popular. Absolutely nothing.

But I hope you see that you are being every bit exclusive as the critics. Suddenly, your great aunt is the arbiter of taste?

I saw Iron Man recently and I really liked it, but if it were to win Best Picture of the Year I would be the first person to complain. Why? Because I have seen better films, I see a lot of movies, or at least I try to. And, by the way, that doesn't mean that a superhero movie could not be the Best Picture of the year.

I notice that in your comment you lean heavily on the terms quality and value, which are, for the most part, terms that need to be defined in terms of a discussion like this. On their own, they are too broad, vague, and subjective. For example, you are using them to bolster your argument, but they could easily be deployed by the opposite side to bolster their argument.

Julie O. said...

Not sure I follow how my comments could be make the opposite argument. Perhaps this discussion may be better served in person next time we're elbowing, perhaps at the Memory of Water cast party. Mrs. Mirror got a great nod in Bay Windows by the way! - Julie O.

Art said...

Hey Julie,

As long as our elbows aren't too sharp!:)

My comment was only to say that though all of those films were rightly commended for their technical achievements, they were not selected for Best Picture. Indeed, sometimes even Best Screenplay nominations are not selected for best picture. And we all know how even directors have been shut out, while their films have gone on to not only be nominated for best picture, but have won.

That is all I was saying originally. And your list of the awards the popular films were nominated for seems to back that up.

Happy to have the discussion anytime!

And Congrats to you on Memory of Water!