So tonight they're going to do a live reveal of the Indy's yearly best awards. It looks like a lot of fun. Stuff like this is a great way for theatre people to get together. To reflect, to give people some recognition. To give people that "non-monetary compensation" that is required to keep you going.
I am not here to bah-humbug this new live embodiment of a yearly tradition. I am here, however, to add a note of caution, surrounded by a bunch of praise.
First, let us praise the Indy. The Indy is dedicated to reviewing local theatre. That's important. That's huge. Why? because when you have theatre reviews along side movie reviews and music reviews it validates theatre. It reminds people that there's lots of theatre going on in their area, and that it's an important part of the local cultural dialogue. As important as the other forms of media we experience. And that's worth quite a lot. The Indy doesn't review everything, but it reviews A LOT of things. And I'm of the opinion, as an actor, producer, and now director, that any review, even a bad review, is better than no review. Give me a bad review and I can at least disagree. But reviewing at least means that my effort was worth the time to take seriously and think critically about, and heck, it gets the name out there again, sometimes any publicity is good publicity. Not getting reviewed, on the other hand, pushes theatre more and more into an obscure past time. It makes it not a part of the cultural dialogue but a forgotten backwater, a lost art, a curiosity.
These days there are a few online-only publications, quite a few actually (CVNC, Triangle A&E, Boom!, Broadway World Raleigh) that provide pretty decent coverage of most shows, but the N&O provides only sporadic coverage, and mostly focused in Raleigh. Having a print publication remain dedicated to theatre is really important. While online reviews are great contributions to an ongoing conversation, from a producer's standpoint they don't drive a large amount of traffic. Some people may log on to Triangle A&E or CVNC to see what's happening that weekend, but far, far more will turn to the pages of their local dead tree paper, or to the calendar section of their websites. The Indy's (and Byron Wood's in particular) contribution to the existence and variety of the local theatre scene should not be understated.
Let me say also that the Indy has been publishing this best of in recognition of local work for years. It's nice. All the local actors look it up when it comes out to see if they are on it, and to see who else is, and which shows. Which shows we saw we didn't think deserved mention that got it, and which that deserved mention that got snubbed. It's fun. We also use it. I know more than a few theatre resumes include an asterisk and a note at the bottom about these awards. And honestly that's nice too. It's nice to have something that says "this shows someone other than my mom liked the show/my performance/my set design" etc... I should also say that as much as I may quibble with the picks, generally pretty deserving people get mentions.
All the above being said, I do want to leaven this with a little caution. Critics write for their audience. For the public, for their peers, for the community at large, but they do not write for the actors and directors, the set designers, the lighting designers, sound designers, etc... They are part of the conversation, and yes, we may learn from their criticism, but we don't do this for criticism and they don't offer it to please us. And this, I think is the main point I have:
If you believe the good things someone says about you, you must also believe the bad things they say about you.
Think about it. We like it when people say nice things about us. Everyone does (we're human). We feel validated and strong. But when we accept praise, when we BELIEVE it, we are ceding power. If we value that praise, we are also giving the power to withhold their praise. You can't say a bad review doesn't affect you if you have the good review, by the same reviewer, on your resume (well, you can say it, sure, but I don't believe you).
I would be lying if I didn't say I felt there is something a little unseemly about a critic hosting a party where basically a bunch of theatre people come and hear what he has to say about their performances over the past year, to see his judgement of them revealed live. It seems ... well it seems a bit self aggrandizing of the critic and a bit fawning of the theatre community. But I don't want to bah-humbug the thing. It's fine. It's normal. If I wasn't busy I'd probably go. And it's not like we're not all going to read it tomorrow in the Indy anyway, so why not have a party? I'm just saying think twice about patting yourself on the back for an award (or feeling bad if you didn't get one). Accept it graciously, put it on your resume (you've got a product to sell after all) but do it with a sense of perspective.
We create art not for the resume, not for the reviews, but because we must. Because telling stories, sharing stories, breathing life into them and carrying them into our community has value to us and to our audience.
Now go have fun! (oh, and tell me who won)