February 4, 2008

alternative Model for Theatre Awards?

John Smythe      posted 4 Feb 2008, 11:06 AM / edited 4 Feb 2008, 11:56 AM

Raising the issue of disrespectful behaviour at the Fringe launch (see the Fringe 08 forum) provoked this response from ‘Zia Lopez’. The ensuing discussion regarding the Chapman Tripp theatre Awards follow (slightly edited to keep to the point – the originals remain on the Fringe 08 forum).


Zia Lopez – posted 27 Jan 2008, 02:30 PM

If the theatre fraternity shows little respect for Corporate Sponsors who support Wellington’s theatre critics being able to foist – for a SECOND time – their often dubious views on the community, perhaps we shouldn’t be too surprised.


Aaron Alexander – posted 28 Jan 2008, 08:54 AM / edited 28 Jan 2008, 10:05 AM

Poor theatre fraternity…having a night to get dressed up, celebrate all their year’s hard work, congratulate each other, give recognition and cold hard cash to a select few, with music, food and booze, all FOISTED upon them…

No wonder they can’t supress their righteous indignation towards the people who foot the bill.


Zia Lopez – posted 1 Feb 2008, 10:22 PM

… my remark about the appropriateness of Wgtn’s theatre critics getting to publicise their views twice got lost in somebody’s bluster. I’m still curious if anyone else thinks this is odd. Wouldn’t it be better if there was an entirely differently voting system for the annual awards based on the Oscar system perhaps? I’m willing to bet there would be completely different winners and losers; much more interesting and democratic.


John Smythe – posted 3 Feb 2008, 05:07 PM

Go for it ‘Zia’. Set up a voting academy of professional practitioners where voting members warrant they have seen all eligible productions [routinely 80-90 per year in Wellington alone – but presumably you would like a NZ-wide awards] and of course you will need the organisational infrastructure around it … Good luck!

Meanwhile, when you complain that Wellington’s theatre critics get to “foist” their reviews on the community TWICE, is this because those who appear elsewhere in print or on other sites also get space on Theatreview?

If so, may I explain: the principle behind this is that the range of reviews can ‘converse’ with each other in the one ‘venue’, and because they are all on a website, anyone else can enter into the ‘conversation’. (I note you have so far posted 45 Comments and 128 Forum postings, under a range of pseudonyms, so you are clearly aware of your democratic rights on Theatreview.)

Or are you saying the “SECOND time” occurs because the Wellington critics take on the aforementioned commitment then add value to thier accumulated body of knowledge, experience and (often differing) opinions by convening to vote on the Chapman Tripp Theatre Awards? 

If so, I am sincerely sorry, ‘Zia’, that you feel so “foisted” upon – twice! – by our activities. Would you feel less victimised if your own reviews were published on Theatreview? If so, feel free to offer your credentials. Key criteria include: a passion for theatre; a clear understanding of how theatre gets made; an ability to articulate your response well in writing; a capacity to contribute fearlessly to the celebration of excellence in theatre craft, including confronting and critiquing failures to meet professional standards; a willingness to put your necessarily subjective opinions out there for scrutiny and counter-critiquing; an abiding desire to help write theatrical productions into history … Have I missed anything? 

Of course you would have to apply and write under your real name to get your reviews on Theatreview. And if you wanted to join the critics’ panel to redress the balance of “foisting” you would, of course, have to see all those eligible productions …

Alternatively you could set up you own website and do as you please.


Zia Lopez – posted 3 Feb 2008, 11:11 PM

We’re still curious.


Jackson Bridge – posted 4 Feb 2008, 08:22 AM

‘Curious’ is one word for it, Zia. ‘Peculiar’ may be better.  What exactly IS your problem?


Zia Lopez – posted 4 Feb 2008, 10:00 AM

I’m curious to see if anyone else apart from me and some of my friends thinks that it would be better if people other than the theatre critics, who have already aired their views publicly, judged Wellington’s annual theatre awards. We think the theatre critics’ views are being given far too much weight by the current system. Other places have different systems which seem pretty straightforward which allow practitioners to vote instead, for instance. I think this would be much fairer and more interesting, and allow a wider spread of views to be aired and discussed, and a wider group of theatre people’s work to be publicly praised.


Jackson Bridge – posted 4 Feb 2008, 10:33 AM

Thank you Zia. So, given John’s comprehensive response, how do you propose that a credible ‘academy’ system be set up? Or what other proposal do you have for a system that is fair, equitable, informed, and involving only voters who have seen all the eligible productions?  Also, do you envisage lobbying becoming part of the process? (Does this happen already?)

You speak as if the critics’ panel represents a conspiracy of like-minded power-mad egotists with some kind of hidden agenda … which would be what, exactly?  As I understand it they cover a reasonable range of ages, genders and backgrounds. And a scroll through this website reveals they often differ in their opinions. And where they don’t … that may be where a consensus can be perceived. Is that a problem?

The voting process has been well explained elsewhere on this site.  Inevitably results must become skewed at times because one or two critics hold strong views pro or con a particular piece of work. Would the outcome of an academy system be any better?  

Presumably you are disgruntled that certain people or productions haven’t won awards.  Do you also think there have been undeserving winners? And how would your alternative system insure against that ever happening again?


martyn roberts – posted 4 Feb 2008, 10:41 AM

Correct me if I’m wrong but I understand the Chapman Tripp Theatre awards were founded by the Wellington theatre reviewers to acknowledge, in their opinion some of the achievements of the year. As I understand it and I have always taken it as such, it is a fun and not too serious way to pass on gratitude to the practitioners who work in the Wellington theatre scene. For ‘Zia’ et al to take it as a be all and end all snapshot of the year is to miss the point. The awards have never been seen in the community as anything more than a great way to celebrate ourselves, have a party, slap ourselves on the back and yes gossip. We love to gnash as we rue the missed nominations – so and so should have been nominated or won or lost or should have just plain shut-up…

If there is anything to be had in this pauper community we call theatre it is a chance to be celebrated, and regardless of whether the final roll call of award recipients is ‘true’ or ‘correct’ we must hang on to those moments that make us all feel good. And an awards night is in the spirit of celebration. Can you’ Zia’ come in from the cold? And anyone else for that matter that feels slighted for any reason by something that has always only been a jolly big cheer up.

John Smythe      posted 4 Feb 2008, 12:58 PM

Speaking personally, being on the ‘Chappies’ panel is an onerous responsibility I could happily do without. Having to see every eligible production can feel like quite a burden at times. Conscientiously building and maintaining a long list for each category throughout the year involves a lot of extra work. The various stages of the voting process can be quite stressful …

Every year, while I rationalise that no person or production got nominated that didn’t deserve it, I invariably feel some extremely excellent work has missed out – and I’m sure my colleagues have felt the same way, probably about quite different people or productions. Sometimes I even feel, deep down, that a terrible injustice has been done … I’m sure this is true for anyone on any sort of selection panel.

But over and above such concerns, each year usually ends with an even stronger feeling that Wellington has once more witnessed a great deal of truly excellent work and I have been extremely privileged to see it all. And because I – and the other fully committed critics – have been in that privileged position, it would be curmudgeonly (that word again) of us not to give something back by bringing that collective experience to the table in support of the awards. 

That said, if someone came up with a better way to acknowledge and celebrate creative excellence in theatre, part of me would heave a huge sigh of relief. I certainly will not ‘die in a ditch’ defending the status quo.

Charlotte Larsen               posted 4 Feb 2008, 05:54 PM

John (and all critics, Chapman Tripp panel or otherwise),

As a theatre patron (both in financial and physical terms, and on a personal and corporate level), I appreciate the work that goes into attending performances, reviewing, processing, deciding, voting and announcing the nominees and the winners of the Chapman Tripp Theatre Awards. And indeed the maintaining of this website (and other forms of media where critical analysis is provided). Of course, not everyone will agree; the trouble with art (theatre, movies, paintings) is that it is all a personal taste. Does everyone agree with the Oscars? No. But they’re still going after 80 years.

The awards work in their current state as they are, as Martyn says, a celebration. I always enjoy the celebrations – an excuse to dress up, get together with peers and thank everyone for a year of hard work, from practitioners, sponsors etc. Although can we have the food first this year please? Might make for slightly less drunk actors come ceremony time (haha!).

FYI – The London Evening Standard Theatre Awards are made up of a judging panel of theatre critics. They seem to be satisfied with that system…

David Lawrence                posted 4 Feb 2008, 11:16 PM

Charlotte’s point seconded and expanded: we don’t need a review of the award selection process (this whole debate was had in the letters pages of the Capital Times over 2003/2004 anyway).  We need a review of the FOOD situation – at $60 per head, the food at the 2006/2007 awards was pretty rotten.  In fact, 2007’s meals seemed to just be 2006’s leftovers taken out of the freezer and reheated.  400 members of the arts community in the same place at once do not need minisucle pieces of gourmet chicken served on wafer thin designer potato.  They need decent, hefty meals with plenty of carbohydrates to soak up all the alcohol so they don’t have to be prematurely thrown out for drunkenly trying to grope the mayor.  The amount of attendees who wound up at the service station over the road buying pies after the spectacular awards dinner was ridiculous.  Bland as the smorgasbord meals of old at the Chapman Tripps held at the town hall may have been, they did the trick no end – bring back the buffet!!!!

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