Notes on the back of a seat ~ theatre notes

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Notes on the back of a seat

Last night, the theatre glitterati of Melbourne clustered at the Playhouse for the Green Room Awards (winners here). Benedict Andrews' production of The Season at Sarsaparilla for the STC Actors Company, seen here at the MTC, won practically everything going in the Companies category (aside from Best Ensemble, won by another Andrews production, Malthouse's Moving Target, and Best Music, won by the inimitable Andrée Greenwell for Bell Shakespeare's Venus & Adonis). Sarsaparilla's domination is, I guess, some compensation for its notable snubbing earlier this year in the Sydney Critics Awards, and it's a wholly deserving winner; but despite my own involvement in all this (as alleged panellist), I can't help feeling some reservations about the whole premise of prize culture. But I'll just rhubarb in the corner about that, and leave you to sort through the rest of the winners yourself.

As for me, I was down the road at Hamer Hall, reviewing Dylan Moran for the Australian. Where I and my partner in crime went to some trouble to photograph the plaque on the back of the seat in front of us with my crappy phone camera. Ah, Austrlian poetry lovers. Bless them.


TimT said...

I was walking past Loophole in Thornbury on the weekend and say a small, neatly-printed, attractive ad for an 'Environmentally freindly housemate'.

I guess they're all freinds at Loophole, though.

TimT said...

say = saw

Oh dear.

Nicholas Pickard said...

It's interesting Sarsparilla was largely ignored in Sydney especially after such positive reviews. But it was a pretty strong year up here in Sydney - especially within the independent sector - so I don't think it's fair to say it got a 'snubbing'.

It's actually quite tenuous trying to draw comparisons between the workings of the Melbourne and Sydney theatre awards.

In fact the model of the Sydney Theatre Critics Circle Awards - where a handful of critics who often haven't seen the same shows decide the pick of the bunch - can probably only last so much longer.

Sydney needs to start looking at a more open format for theatre awards which would preferably take on the Melbourne model of peer review.

Interestingly, the Sydney circle is starting to look more like a semi-circle after it almost halved in the last month with the departure of a few critics from the Herald, leaving only five (i think) on the panel.

Certainly they could beef up the numbers adding some bloggers into the mix but their selection criteria into the group is pretty random and vague.

It would be better to alter the format (which would be costly) and add the peer review element - or even some public consultation.

But like you, I too can't help but feeling reservations about the whole premise of prize culture. It's a bit like trying to compare the Melbourne and Sydney awards structure... all apples and oranges with a few pineapples in between.

Alison Croggon said...

Hi Nick - yes, theatre awards are wholly vexed. And we had a very strong year here last year too, which the complete dominance of SOS in the Companies section seems, rightly or wrongly, to erase. I hasten to say, I adored that production, which I thought remarkable - on which note, you can't tell me that its complete absence from Best Production/ Direction/Actors noms in the Sydney Critics Awards hasn't something to do with the extraordinary level of hostility generated by the STC Actors Company!

By its nature, prize culture always ends up elevating one work as the "best", instead of highlighting the much more complex achievement of an exciting (or otherwise) culture. And this seems to me the case very much with the Green Rooms, although scrolling through the (rather long) nominations will give you some idea of the theatrical diversity and vitality in Melbourne. I guess prizes are easier for journalists to get their head around, rather than attempting to, say, analyse how a culture is actually doing. And that's the system we have, so we have to live with it.

On the other hand, I keep saying yes to being on panels, after first saying no. I find myself always on the horns of dilemma - I end up thinking, well, it's no use complaining about prizes unless you're going to try to contribute to making things better (with whatever sense of futility and/or scepticism): but on the other hand, do we really need prizes? How much do they really celebrate or publicise the culture?

Casey Bennetto said...

I need prizes.

Alison Croggon said...

Fair dos. I like getting them too. Even so, I think they should have cheques attached...or would like them to mean something more, in a culture where, say, art happens on the front pages of the newspaper and leads the nightly news. Ie, I know I'm wondering about something impossible... In the meantime, it's nice if they go to the right people.

Mark Williams said...

Dear Alison,
I will contribute a brief comment to your last one about money. In the case of the Green Room Awards, sometimes people do put up amounts of money as memorials or prizes, but, in those cases, we always make recommendations and leave it to the donor to decide. In effect, that award operates in parallel with the Association's awards. Those types of prizes weren’t actually awarded this year but are usually tied to career development (for example, the Award in memory of the actor Gerda Nicholson) or documentation (per the John Truscott Award for Theatre Design), i.e. more about trying to increase the longevity of a performance career or its memory.

Again, I agree with so much of what you say about prize culture, but the Green Rooms are very much a peer thing, not a patronage thing. I first had to deal with the conundrum in the egalitarian seventies at Melbourne University where the solution others hit upon was to 'divert' awards of prizes for theatre. At that stage there was an award of money from two endowments by rather wonderful theatre people who are now both dead and, I fear, are remembered only by a very few. Instead of singling anyone out in those days, the money was donated to the student library instead to buy theatre texts and scripts for the future, not the past.
In the mean time, I remain somewhat in awe at the diversity of creativity celebrated at the ceremony last Monday. It was, though I say it myself, a pretty special night; but, more importantly, the process that got it there made it, I hope, a real celebration of the theatre community. A group of people which has, as I have mentioned elsewhere, committed to making art in a social context for their livelihoods, largely with nothing to fall back on.

Mark Williams
Green Room Awards.

Alison Croggon said...

Many thanks, Mark, for buying into this discussion. You are, of course, absolutely correct on all your points; and it's probably fair to say that the Green Rooms, with their complex and endlessly worked over system of peer assessment, are the most credible awards we have, and they are created out of an enormous amount of voluntary time. I really don't mean to dismiss the hard work of you and others in raising my questions - but you know that.

The money thing was really a facetious remark (I like getting cheques whenever possible). Money is very helpful to artists who have, as you say, nothing to fall back on. But of course, as soon as money enters the equation, other things come into play. You're probably right that it's best they remain disinterested. Still, wouldn't it be great to be able to give people - preferably everybody who makes the shortlists - a big cheque? Dreaming on in my parallel universe...

Christine Evans said...

Regarding the
Austrlian Poetry
Lovers Society:

is it meant to be read as one phrase =or two, do you think?

(A Lovers Society seems to fit in a sort of Leunigesque way with Austrlian Poetry).