Thursday, March 13, 2008

How Big Easy Theatre Awards Work

Posted By on Thu, Mar 13, 2008 at 12:27 AM

by Frederick Mead

I work for the foundation that produces the Big Easy Entertainment Awards, which include separate award events for Theatre, Popular Music, and Classical Arts (opera, dance, and Classical music). I also serve on the nominating committee for theatre awards. Here's an insider's low-down on the theatre awards process.

WHAT IS THE BIG EASY AWARD FOUNDATION?

Yes, there really is a foundation. It was founded 20 years ago by Gambit Weekly publisher, Margo DuBos, as a 501c3 non-profit. The purpose of the foundation is to promote education in the performing arts in the Greater New Orleans area. The Foundation awards several grants each year, about $2000-3500 each, to projects that teach performance skills or nurture young talent. Our full official name is The Foundation for Entertainment Development and Education, but we are best known as The Big Easy Awards Foundation.

Recent grant recipients include (not an exhaustive list):

  • CAC's What Girls Know, for theatre with teens for VDay.
  • Creative Forces, for a series of workshops in music and dance.
  • Joe "Cool" Davis, for Gospel workshops in Central City.
  • Dog & Pony Theatre Co, for theatre arts in Recovery School district.

And several others.

Ostensibly, the awards galas are fundraisers, and we may seem conservative about comps (although in my personal opinion, we're actually too generous with comps.) We raise additional funds each year at the Reds, Whites, and Blues, a fancy wine tasting at City Park. 200 wines, gourmet food donated by area chefs, and live music by Harry Mayronne Trio, our house band. If you like the awards shows, support the Foundation. Buy tickets to the wine tasting next year.

The Foundation is a 2-person office, Gloria Powers and Guy Friday. That's me. Together, with help from a LOT of people, we put together the awards galas that you enjoy so much.

WHO VOTES FOR AWARDS?

Voting is not open to the public. Instead, a committee of 23 "theatre people" nominate shows in 25 categories. The complete list of committee members is at the very bottom of this blog, with links to bios where available. The committee includes critics, playwrights, lifelong theatre-devotees, and a scant few directors and actors. All have *demonstrated* an eagerness to see plays. And for the record, Gloria is always looking for more People of Color for the committee. People who are expert in some way in local theatre and can commit to 2 or 3 plays a week.

Some of us make an extra effort to see university productions, child performances, and riskier, low-budget productions that are less likely to be seen than the Big Musical at a theatre in the French Quarter.

In January, we lock ourselves inside a conference room with pizza and large piles of programs that we've collected over the previous year. For each category, we shout out names that stood out in our memories, reminding one another of all the good work that deserves consideration. After this "remembering meeting", we go home and write up our personal top 3 for each category. These are tallied.

You may wonder why some productions seem "ignored" by the committee. It's a matter of numbers. In reality, just about every production you saw that deserves a nomination usually gets a shout out at the remembering meeting. But only the top 3 are announced. 4th place is often crowded with ties. Also, the hard fact is, the more committee folk you get to your shows, the more nominations you're likely to get.

After the top 3 nominees in each category are identified and announced in Gambit Weekly, the committee cast our final votes. Every nominee is a winner, of course, but the winner of the *award* is announced at the Theatre Awards Gala.

Monday, March 24 at Harrahs Theatre.

Call me at 504 483-3129 for tickets.

WHY DOES THE COMMITTEE ASK FOR COMP TICKETS?

I go to 2 or 3 plays a week. Each committee member sees on average 100 plays a year. Hence, our request for comps. We are volunteers, and out-of-pocket expenses add up quickly. If I paid for all the plays I'll see this year, plus my guest, we're looking at $4000 of my own money:

2 people X $20 a ticket X 100 plays = $4000

Multiply that by 23 committee members, and you'll understand why we ask for comps.

Some directors tell us "sorry, no comps", thinking it's no big deal for us to pay out of pocket. Now and then is fine, but still, this is just not pragmatic. Considering the number of competing plays in a given week, which plays are you more likely to see? The free ones, right? Does that mean you have to give away 23 comps plus our 23 guests? Nope. We have 23 committee members because it takes that many to ensure fair coverage in New Orleans, North Shore, and West Bank, and to ensure that productions are seen by multiple people. Seven is a good number to aim for.

HOW CAN YOU GET NOMINATED?

The math is very simple. The more committee members who see your production, the more likely you'll get enough nominations to make the top 3. Do good work, of course; but also do the math.

ADVICE: Invite us directly at theatrecommittee@gambitweekly.com, and tell us your comp policy. Usually we get 2 comps, because everyone likes to see a play with a guest. We try to see plays together, but our schedules don't often mesh that way. Instead, I arrive at a play, and discover 2 other committee friends are there the same night.

Some theatre companies prefer us to come on Preview nights. Others prefer we come when the run has started, the kinks are worked out, and we're seeing the best presentation. I see a lot of rough previews and clunky opening nights. ADVICE: Don't restrict us to previews. Show us your best work.

Universities, some of you are not getting out the word well enough, probably because your PR person is a student who changes each semester. Your runs are often only 3-5 days over a long weekend, so by the time I've heard, it's over. ADVICE: Send email to theatrecommittee@gambitweekly.com

Also (pet peeve alert), don't send an email entitled "Press Release" with a Word doc attached. Given the volume of email I receive, I'm not likely to download, then launch Word, to read something as vaguely titled as "Press Release" ADVICE: Write the title of the press release as the title of the email; for example, "Tulane announces Dog Sees God". Put the text of your press release into the body of the email, not as a separate attachment.

WHO ARE THE COMMITTEE MEMBERS?

Ed Bishop, award-winning director and actor

Roberts Batson

Pat Bourgeois, playwright

Paul Broussard, reviewer for Stage & Screen on WTUL

Michael Cahill, award-winning actor and chronicler of local theatre history

Tom Cucullu

Harold Evans, Big Easy Award-winning actor, and Artistic Director of the LA Living History company

Tracy Hendrix

Joseph Larose

Anthony Leggio of Mardi Gras Productions

Trip McCormick

Frederick Mead, playwright, actor, and unnaturally youthful wunderkind

George Patterson, director

John Perkins

Brians Sands, theatre reviewer for Ambush and playwright

Al Shea, theatre reviewer for WYES TV

Alan Smason, theatre reviewer

Jay Stanley

Michael Sullivan, Big Easy Award-winning actor and DEM Boys producer

Laura Tennyson

Troy Tillman

Dalt Wonk, theatre reviewer for Gambit Weekly

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