The Point of Theatre Awards

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Do you pay attention to theatre awards? Maybe even once or twice a year?

I rather like them since I love theatre, from Brecht’s theatrical bizarre to Aristophanes’ dirty humour, I follow theatre avidly. Even then, I must concede I struggle to name too many theatre awards other than the Tonys and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Doesn’t this just go to show that we need some more awards in theatre and not let cinema get them all?

An award, according to me, can be a great predictor of the pedigree a play might enjoy. It could also secure permanent funding for a lesser-known writer or company and—for the discerning amongst us—it can “direct” us to the plays we can admit to liking in “informed” company! But just how influential are these awards in the world of theatre?

Let’s look at some interesting facts. Tennessee Williams’ breakthrough play, The Glass Menagerie, won the New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award in 1945. Though Williams had been writing for almost ten years prior, the Menagerie brought him out of obscurity; without the award, he may have faded back into it. After winning, Williams had an audience eagerly anticipating his next work, which meant interested agents and a guaranteed audience of attentive reviewers. The award was also a good indication of things to come; the Menagerie enjoys a vast legacy which stretches to the present day with runs on Broadway as recently as 2013.

On the other hand, an award can serve to solidify the notoriety of a play, apart from its genius. When Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot premiered in London in 1955 it suffered terrible reviews and open hostility from audiences, many of whom walked out. The public was unimpressed that the newly-formed Evening Standard Drama Awards threatened to crown Godot as their Best New Play. A number of notable names in London’s cultural elite made a counter-threat—that they would resign in protest—and Godot was instead awarded the Most Controversial Play of the Year. The societal kerfuffle and the very label ‘controversial’ in one of the most liberal cities in the world no doubt set Beckett’s masterpiece apart from other plays of its time.

The upcoming Mahindra Excellence in Theatre Awards (or META) is invaluable for theatre-goers in India because it has had a tradition of having a similar effect on its beneficiaries. Award-winners can expect a larger audience, greater acceptance in cultural circles and, perhaps, a place amongst the masterpieces in Indian theatre.

 

– JC Cairns

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