One of the objections I’ve heard while starting the Las Vegas Valley Theatre Awards is that “We don’t need more competition in theatre here, we need more cooperation.” And because people believe that, they don’t want to help with the Awards process. I believe the exact opposite is true. The Vegas Valley Theatre Awards are designed to improve cooperation between theatres, and that every theatre in the Las Vegas area will benefit. You can read this blog post to find out WHY I think this is so—or just come to our orientation and kickoff Saturday, Jan. 4 at 2 p.m. at Art Square Theatre. (And even if you do read this whole post—PLEASE COME!)
First, let’s address competition. Competition is “the activity or condition of competing.” And because that’s a little circular, the definition of “to compete” is: “strive to gain or win something by defeating or establishing superiority over others who are trying to do the same.” Calling the Las Vegas Valley Theatre Awards a competition, then, assumes that theatres are now going to “strive to gain or win” by “establishing superiority over others.”
Let’s look at things that are actual competitions. (An easy job on New Year’s Day as you have about a million football games happening…) A team (or athlete) has one singular goal: to win. Every practice, every training session, every effort is focused on improving skills to win a game, to “establish superiority over others.”
There are theatre competitions out there: AACTFest for one. Theatres put together shows that they know will be performed alongside others and judged, the winner moves on to another round. And people know when they start that process that they will be judged on it.
But the Tonys? The Jeff Awards? The Ovations? The Helen Hayes? Or any of the other regional awards out there? Does anyone seriously believe that theatres enter rehearsal to put on a show with the idea that “Hey, let’s make this good so we can establish our superiority over all the other shows out there?” After a Tony win, does a Broadway show run down the street with their fans and big foam fingers and shout “We’re number 1! We’re number 1!” And for that matter, do winners get a chance to repeat? Can Phantom win a Tony threepeat?
The other thing to keep in mind throughout all of this is how much COOPERATION is necessary for the Tonys to even occur. Producers contribute to the American Theatre Wing, who runs the logistics of the thing and helps promote Broadway theatre. They give away hundreds of free tickets to judges. They have to pay stagehands, performers and designers to make the show happen. Why do they do this? Do they do this every year because each and every year a producer will have a show they want to win the Best Musical? I don’t think so. Producers sometimes go years between getting a show on Broadway. So why do the Tonys happen every year? Because producers know that having the Tonys every year is the best advertising Broadway can possibly have. That they’ll have three hours to put their shows in front of millions and millions of people on broadcast TV. This is why in recent years Broadway producers have insisted on including musical numbers from old shows, or shows that aren’t nominated. Because it’s actually all about marketing a show.It’s all cooperating to raise the visibility of theatre as an art form.
As Brad Erickson, the executive director the Theatre Bay Area in the San Francisco Bay Area succinctly put it when TBA announced their awards program in June of 2013, awards “help raise the profile of the art form in their regions” and “significantly contribute to the career advancement of individual theatre-makers and the success of local theatre companies. The most impactful of these programs are widely recognized by the press, the public and philanthropic institutions.”
Philanthropic institutions are important to fundraising for theatres. Theatres get to put on their grant applications some external validation that the work they’re producing is worthwhile, has value, and should be supported by foundations. But it’s not about establishing superiority over other theatres—it’s about being able to point to the fact that the work being produced is quality.
Finally, in regional markets, annual awards shows aren’t such a big boost to individual shows—because most of the shows have already closed. But the format of the Jeffs in Chicago (which we’re copying for the Vegas Valley Theatre Awards) compensate for this by announcing throughout the year which shows are quality, which are “Jeff Recommended.” Theatres can use this recommendation to help in their marketing efforts throughout the year. This has nothing to do with competing with other shows, and everything to do with helping shows promote themselves and get more audience members to see it.
So where’s the competition? I think there is none. BUT WE NEED YOUR COOPERATION. We need to get as many volunteers to see shows as possible. We need theatres to reach out and let me know what the creative teams on shows are in order to make them eligible. We need your help.