Andrew Hamm: the Bipolar Express

Ruminations on theatre, music, and just about anything else that crosses my bipolar brain.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

A(wk)ward nomination

It was only a matter of time before someone called me on it, but it happened much faster than I thought it would.

In the post on Richmond Shakespeare's blog where I wrote the announcement of the company's eight Richmond Theatre Critics Circle award nominations, an anonymous writer (hereafter referred to, Strong Bad-style, as "Nonny") remarked:

Andrew, I'm surprised that you would tout the awards here, considering your previous quote:

"I hate all award shows. I'm just not down with a perspective of awarding one person's art as being somehow 'superior' to another's. I also resent the cult of celebrity in general. Can we please spend that money on something that helps people rather than self-aggrandizement? If I was nominated for an Oscar or a Tony I would very seriously probably not attend."

First of all, I made some comments about the anonymous post over there, and you can read those if you like. But the big thing is this: Nonny makes a very valid point: It's all quite easy to decry and criticize the awarding of art... until you're nominated for an award. It's also quite easy to have rock-solid principles right up until the point where they make you into a gigantic asshole.

One thing I have learned beyond the shadow of a doubt in this topsy-turvy 2008 is that I am dead-damn wrong about a whole lot of things I've been sure about for a long time, personally, politically, socially, and artistically. Change is good (except when it's not), and I've been taking a lot of my opinion changes as evidence that I'm doing all right as the listener I've been trying to be. But disliking the valuation of one person's artistic expression as superior to another person's continues to be an issue I'm entirely solid about.

This was all well and good until I found myself nominated for a couple of the damn things.

I write that with a smile. It's as if God and the RTCC conspired to say, "Hamm hasn't learned quite enough humility this year. Let's show him what challenging his ideas really is."

It's a cliche, but it really is an honor to be nominated; nomination is an award in and of itself. I'm flattered as all hell to be nominated, and am quite proud of the work everyone did for both productions of As You Like It. The spring show (the one nominated), in particular, was just a magical experience from start to finish, from the December read-through in my living room with the smell of simmering chili wafting through the room all the way through the April non-goodbye knowing we were coming back to do it again in the summer. The cast (Patrick Bromley, Frank Creasy, Sunny LaRose, Adam Mincks, Julia Rigby), the technical staff (Rebecca Cairns, Joey Fanelli, Annie Hoskins, Bryan Laubenthal), and the advisors (Jill Bari Steinberg, Christine Walters, Dave White) combined to create an ensemble feel I have never before experienced in the rehearsal room. It was also some of the most fun I've ever had on a show. I'm glad to know that the production merited this kind of notice. They deserve it.

But wait a second, Hamm, Nonny says, wagging his/her finger. I thought you said you hate these things!

I hate self-aggrandizing Hollywood spectacles that primarily serve to sell television advertising minutes and show all the little people how much money the glitterati can afford to spend on their clothes. That's not what the RTCC Awards are for. The event is black-tie, yes, but come on. Who in Richmond Theatre is going to be wearing a $300,000 necklace, a $100,000 tux, a custom-made six-figure dress? Perhaps the finest thing I can say about Richmond theatre artists is that they're genuine, honest, real people. They're also contributing to a worthy cause; all proceeds from the evening are going to the RAPT Theatre Artists' fund.

There's just no reasonable way I can apply my dislike of award shows to this event, which is so clearly a celebration of our community and collective achievement.

I shun glory and attention moments, sometimes to a level that is counterproductive. I'm not very good at self-promotion, compliments make me uncomfortable, and I often tend to under-block curtain calls (As You Like It had no contingency for extended applause or a standing ovation, and we had several opportunities for extra bows). I have a tendency to undervalue my work and my contribution. But there's no way I can look at the list of RTCC nominees and not feel enormously proud of my company's work, my friends' work, and the high level of quality produced by Richmond theatre artists and organizations in the past year. This evening is shaping up to be a glorious celebration of what we can do in Richmond, what we have done, and I am damn well going to smile and support it.

I'm also amazed that the circle critics were able to keep this all secret. Nicely done.

As a final note, I like that the design awards are referred to as "Outstanding Achievement" rather than "Best," as in "Outstanding Achievement in Costume Design." I hope that the RTCC will consider applying this language to all the awards next year, such as "Outstanding Achievement in a Musical," "Outstanding Achievement by a Supporting Actress," "Outstanding Achievement by a Director," and so on. It sounds a bit clunky, but it's certainly much more truthful than the labeling of anything artistic as "The Best."

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  • At 8/21/2008 4:16 PM , Blogger Frank Creasy said...

    It's quite true that for those performances of As You Like It where the audience gave a standing ovation, it was the one moment of the show where we really looked liked clumsy amateurs. We were unprepared for it - we had made no contingency plan for the standing O, planning for a quick and appreciative bow (thanks to YOU for coming, folks!), and then quickly hustling off the stage.

    As I grow older (which seems to be happening much faster these days), I'm constantly struck by the yin-yang of life. You must have a full measure of confidence and fearlessness to perform, but hubris is the death knell of the artist. It's vitally important to live your life in the 21st century by your values and by the golden rule, yet you must remain flexible and be fair to yourself when others play for themselves or work to take advantage of you. The priorities are often in conflict; the choices rarely black and white.

    However, while the choices are not black and white, my penguin suit surely will be on October 19th at the RTCC awards event. I'll be glad to make a donation in excess of the suggested one for the artists' fund that night, and will feel both proud and humbled to be in such fine company. It would be great to get the award...but as far as I'm concerned, I really have already won based on the incredible response I've received for both As You Like It and for The Spanish Tragedy. It's been quite a year. I can only hope 2008-2009 can come close to this one.


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