Aren't there enough awards shows already? Doesn't giving out so many awards dilute their value? Why wasn't my show considered?
These are, if not the three most frequently asked questions, then the three biggest questions raised by our annual Garland Awards honoring excellence in West Coast theatre. And the answers to each are: no, not for West Coast theatre; a qualified maybe, and, if your show was seen by more than one Back Stage West critic or correspondent, it was considered.
These Garlands inherit some of the mandate of the bygone Drama-Logue awards, which required no critical consensus at all, and which were simply the grand total of each individual Drama-Logue critic's year-end "best of" lists, formalized into certificates and an awards show. We upped the ante a bit when we began our awards in 1998 (for productions in 1997) in two ways: We required a show or artist to be named in at least two critics' year-end "best of" list to receive a Garland plaque, and we opened the geographic area to include all the regions we cover regularly with reviews and features.
This means that shows and artists in a given region about which there is any agreement among my critics will get a plaque; those cited by only one critic will be listed in our "honorable mention" section (list starts on page 23). This year there are a total of 200 Garland award citations, down from last year's 224; 107 of those are for theatre in Los Angeles, with a total of 126 for Southern California in general; there are 26 award citations for Northern California, 17 for theatres in the Pacific Northwest, 11 for theatres in Houston, Texas (home of the nationally significant Alley Theatre and Theatre Under the Stars), and 20 for work in the Santa Maria/Santa Barbara area.
Is that too many damn awards? I've fretted over that but don't see a fair way to effectively "jury"-i.e., send a certain minimum number of critics out to-all the possible shows we cover, from large to small, in our many areas. This is the dilemma of many an awards jury (witness the L.A. Drama Critics Circle): A higher number of votes required for a show to qualify certainly cuts down on the number of awards given, but it also lops off a huge chunk of shows from even being considered at all. Our colleagues at the L.A. Weekly admirably narrow their focus to L.A. theatre in houses under 100 seats, and Theatre LA's high-profile peer-judged Ovation awards have a byzantine but equitable voting process (just don't ask me to explain it), producing awards that give a full-color snapshot of an impossibly diverse scene.
In this fragile little theatre awards ecology, I like to think of the Garlands as a cross-section of some of the best in West Coast theatre; they cut the year's theatre fare down the middle and give an impression of my critics' catholic tastes. Indeed, they can only account for taste, in the absence of a real jury process: I don't send critics out as "voters" to shows we've already reviewed. Instead, I let critics' interest in their local theatre scenes follow its course, and then poll them at year's end. I've been pleasantly surprised by what an interesting and heartening image of the year's theatre this process gives us. A definitive image? No. But a valuable one, I think.
Taper director Robert Egan has perceived "a healthy degree of contention" among my reviewers. Indeed, a few of the shows you'll see loaded with honors on these pages got fair to bad reviews in this very paper, and many that were lauded highly here have come up empty-handed at awards time.
This may be one reason why I still get comments that people miss the largesse of the old Drama-Logue awards (which, for the record, numbered a whopping 914 in their final year, and that just for L.A. and San Francisco), saying that they appreciated the "pat on the back" those certificates gave them. That's nice. But I believe that West Coast theatre is past the age of needing little pats on the head to feel validated, like a promising little child. Thinking back on theatre in 1999, it looks to me like the kid is all right.
Read on, and tell us what you think!