Andrew Hamm: the Bipolar Express

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

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

RTCC Awards 2009

I hate arts awards.

Hate is a strong word. Let me back up a bit.

I am deeply suspicious of labeling one person’s art as being superior to another’s, or in the case of a “Best” award, all the others’. Art is incredibly subjective, both from the perspective of the performer and the audience, and theatre perhaps the most of all. For example, what about the phoned-in performance that critics and audiences love? Is it “good” art because people liked it, or “bad” art because little effort was invested in its creation? And what about the brilliant performance that half of a small audience simply didn’t get? Who’s at fault; the actor, the playwright, the director, the spectator? Everyone or no one?

So I don’t like arts awards. I don’t watch them on TV and I don’t care what the results are. I hate the politics, the sense of entitlement, the atmosphere of egocentric self-congratulation.

So it’s fortunate that this isn’t what the RTCC awards this Sunday are about.

Last year’s awards were one of my favorite memories of all Richmond theatre. Friends and colleagues gathered at the Firehouse to celebrate each other’s craft in an evening of fellowship and congratulation, a night of wine, women and song, and of men who looked so good in tuxedoes it made me wish for the fashions of yesteryear. The Richmond Shakespeare contingent was the bad kids in the back rows, making a ruckus as usual. I had written more than a couple blog treatises about how much I hate arts awards, so it was with more than a little awkwardness that I sat, a nominee. Fortunately, the puck my show won was for costumes, and Becky Cairns got to give a speech instead of whatever unrehearsed horribleness might have spewed from my piehole. For me, events like this are especially odd, because most of my Richmond theatre experience is with one company and I don’t know many of the performers who work elsewhere, simply because we haven’t played together—and because I am often too shy to stick around after shows I see to tell performers I don’t know that I liked their work. (Yes, I am shy; try not to faint.)

This year, I am once again honored to have a show nominated for an “Artsie.” (By the way, let me just publically state here that “Artsie” is the most generic name imaginable for an award. Can’t we find a way to name them after the first recipient of a memorial award, Liz Marks? The “Lizzies,” or the “Marksies?” Even “Ratsies” or “Ritzies” is better. Maybe we could use one of the rejected baseball team names, which are also hideous.) That’s actually what I most wanted to write about today, but I haven’t blogged in forever, so I’ve sort of rambled a bit.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream is nominated for “Best Ensemble Acting” this year, and I couldn’t be more thrilled. This is quite a contrast to last year’s noms for As You Like It, which caused me mortal dread at the prospect of winning, dread which was only assuaged by the certain knowledge that there was no way in hell the show would win Best Play or Best Director. Interestingly, when the 2008 nominations were announced, I mentioned that a “Best Ensemble” award, like at the SAG Awards, would be a welcome addition. While I was, indeed, thinking of the experiences of directing Doctor Faustus (an ensemble of two) and As You Like It (another truly remarkable couple of ensembles) at the time, this seems more than a bit self-serving now; ironically so since A) it’s an acting award and therefore not mine to receive, and B) I would be dreading the prospect of winning it were I able to do so. Wrap your head around that mass of contradictions. My ambition of becoming a real-life Joss Whedon character is fulfilled.

But I absolutely have to re-state how immensely proud I am of the Midsummer company: actors Sandra Clayton, Brandon Crowder, Stacie Rearden Hall, Kerry McGee and Adam Mincks, designers and crew members Ray Bullock, Becky Cairns, Will Hankins, Annie Hoskins, Bryan Laubenthal, Emily Rawlings, Caroline Sumner, J. David White and David White (confusing, I know), musicians Jake Allard, Todd Borden, Holly Harris and Holly Lucas (who was also a designer) and everyone at Second Pres and Agecroft Hall whose names aren’t on the tip of my cerebrum, not to mention producers Grant Mudge and Richard Moxley. This is technically an acting award, but all those people are honorees in my book. That’s what ensemble is about, in my book.

When I direct, I try to strike a balance between making it fun and making it a challenge, and these actors rose to the fun of the challenge and the challenge of the fun like none I’ve ever worked with. For a director who prides himself in building ensembles, their nomination is an indescribable honor. Plus, it’s the best of all possible worlds: I can root for them without having the awkwardness of actually having to accept an award if they win. Score!

So regardless of what happens on Sunday evening, I offer my congratulations to the cast of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and I look forward to seeing my enormous Richmond Theatre family dressed to the nines for a celebration of our trials and triumphs at the Empire on Sunday night.

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  • At 10/16/2009 9:21 AM , Blogger Frank Creasy said...

    Well, though I can't say for sure I was the only one with the idea, I did suggest "Artsie" as the name for the award to Dave Timberline because it's the phonetic pronunciation of the abbreviated nominating group (RTCC..."art" from RT and "sies" (pronounced "sees") for the two C's at the end).

    I understand the trepidation around awards for the arts. There's always widespread disagreement. How could "Shakespeare in Love", a nice little movie with an outstanding performance by Geoffrey Rush, beat "Saving Private Ryan" for Best Picture at the Oscars? Because Hollywood hates war movies and loves Gwyneth? You have to wonder at these. More recently, Sean Penn over Mickey Rourke for Best Actor? Really? REALLY???

    But I digress. The "Artsies" (sorry to disagree Andrew, I think it's a brilliant name) is a true celebration of theatrical excellence and a real Richmond theatre love fest. Is there still some self congratulations and narcissism involved? Well of course, we're talking about ARTISTS! "Look at me, look at me, look at me!" But let's also not deny the generosity of spirit, true affection for friends and colleagues, and love of theatre that runs through the event.

    Looking forward to seeing you there amigo!


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