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The Carbonell conversation continues

Monday's abrupt announcement by the Carbonell Awards board of directors that it was suspending judging of productions that open in 2009 brought a firestorm of reaction, most of it negative.  For a sampling, read and ponder the comments that follow my first post on the situation.  Arts journalists, Carbonell voters and the theater community itself reacted with surprise, dismay and anger at the notion that, so soon after the death of program founder Jack Zink in August, the awards themselves were going on a hiatus from which they might never come back.

Members of the executive committee of the Theatre League of South Florida (which has nothing to do with running the Carbonells, though it's often Theatre League members who actually win them) huddled over the situation.

League president Meredith Lasher commented, "The Carbonell Awards are seen as an integral part of the South Florida theater community.  This announcement follows so closely [on] the untimely passing of Jack Zink...and is coupled with an acute reduction of media space allocated to the arts.  It's really been a double hit to the theater community.  Our constituents have naturally had very emotional reactions to the announcement, and the Theatre League Board of Directors will be holding forums for discussion.'' 

The first gathering will be at 6 p.m. Sunday at Sixth Star Studios, 505 NW First Ave., Fort Lauderdale, the home of the Women's Theatre Project.  Anyone who is interested is invited to come, share ideas and "explore constructive opportunities."  Judging from the feedback since Monday, it should be a lively conversation. 

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Iris Acker

I feel like the "Old Lady" of the Carbonells. I'm holding the program for the 4th Annual Carbonells from 1979!!!

I had the privilege of being nominated. I was in New York when a friend called to tell me. I said "What's a Carbonell?"I wound up eating those words.

As you know back in "the old days", only the critics voted and chose the winners. I wound up promoting the event on T.V. and directing the evening celebrations alongside of Jack Zink. What an honor!!

Yes, there is history. Does it matter?

Personally, I'm in mourning. As a Judge, and speaking for the others, I never heard any one complain about the miles driven or the gas bought.

But, I know that without financing there cannot be another Carbonell Award event. As actors we are so emotional, but none of us has a "'barn" anymore.

If you come to the Sunday meeting, perhaps you'll offer practical advice for funding help.

See you there!
IRIS ACKER

Antonio Amadeo

I've had conversations with many people who have suggested that the ceremony itself doesn't have to be nearly as expensive as it is. In recent years the event has become more and more about pointless glitz and glamour and finding any New York actor who has been "Nominated Twice" for a Tony to host the event. (If I recall, in the past few years, the most well received and appropriate MC for the event was the late, great Bruce Adler. A local veteran actor who had Broadway credits, but who, nonetheless, lived and worked HERE.) I remember thinking things had gotten out of hand when, a few years ago, a "famous" person/presenter took 5 minutes to wax and spew at the podium, then announced the winner of the award she was presenting and held a finger to her watch indicating to the winner that her time was running out as she dashed up the aisle in dress and high heels. For you see, those who are being "honored" are only given a minute and a half to make their way down the long path to the podium AND give a speech of acceptance before the great conductor is instructed to shush them with a musical muzzle. The presenters and one-time-TV-legend-MCs, however, can take all the time they want to do and say what they please. Why is so much time and effort spent on an event that has become an insult to the very artists it is meant to honor. It is like they are ashamed of the talent in South Florida.

Don't get me wrong. I know this isn't the intention. The people who work very hard to honor us with the awards and who put the ceremony together do indeed care for this community, but all of the showyness is beside the point. (Showyness is a dumb word. I know this. Stay with me.)

If the cost of the event is the issue, let's take a step back and focus on the honorees. There was a time when the event was bounced between local theatres. What happened to that?

This is all solvable. (I hope I spelled that right.)

Karen Stephens

As a south Fla. actor who has had some of her best work ignored by this nomination and selection process, I'd made the decision never to attend another award ceremony. I had made the decision not to measure my worth as an actor against such a mysterious and subjective process. No sour grapes, just self-preservation; everyone wants to be recognized for good work. I tried to buy into it for years, attending to cheer on the casts I belonged to who won, cheering the theatres I'd worked for and the friends I'd worked with. After a time I began to feel as though these awards were for only a certain "sector" of our theatre community or certain "theatres". On top of that the feeling that the Carbonells didn't belong to us anymore with all of the imported talent and emcees. It begins to be dispiriting to witness people winning awards for roles for which they preciously won. There was a time when the entertainment for the ceremony was provided strictly by shows from the nominated season which gave some of us a chance to perform for our peers.
So, to have an awards process where ALL the judges see every show and vote objectively (i.e. no popularity contests); to see local talent and cutting edge entertainment, yeah, that would be awesome.

CL Jahn

I don't know if the celebrity hosts were being compensated, but as someone who's attended since 1986, they were never much of a draw. They're fun; but the awards are about US, the people in South Florida who make theatre.

As Karen writes, the awards should not be a measure of our esteem: I remember working as Technical Director on a "Best Production" winner, and being amazed that it won: it was a real turkey. And I've seen a lot of shows and designs go on to win awards over far superior competition; not all of them, and not every year. But a lot of this is subjective.

The real benefit isn't that we get to know who's "best," because such a measurement has no value. The real benefit is that one night out of the year, everyone was in one place, celebrating our art in a publicly conspicuous manner. It was an opportunity for the press to write about our artistic community, and all the various niches we filled or discovered.

I know from experience that bouncing it between theatres was a lousy experience for the attendee; when it was held at the far reaches of the region, it becomes an extremely difficult trip for someone living at the opposite extreme. The Broward locations are the ones that are most central, and thus the best options overall. Even before I worked at the Broward Center, I enjoyed the ceremonies more when they were at the Center or the Parker. Trying to find parking the year they were at the Colony was horrendous: The Royal Palm was too small, and while Bob was a genious at in the round, the awards didn't really work in that format. Actors' Playhouse had room and parking, but what a drive for the Palm Beach contigent! The same problem reversed for the Jupiter Theatre: great space, good parking, what a drive!

I don't think the venue is the cost factor here; and the judges insist that they had no problem driving to see the shows, so THAT's not the issue.

We haven't really heard any actual reasons offered for "skipping" a year, just some vague excuses. And until we know the real reasons for the retreat, it will be difficult to offer up meaningful solutions.

But a year without the Carbonells? We'd be better off shooting Santa.

Wayne LeGette

We are all pretty much saying the same thing... I sure hope the right people are listening... here's the comments that I posted on the Facebook Theatre League invite (since I cannot attend the meeting due to rehearsal)...

Andie... thanks for your post... here's all I want... I want the awards to be taken SERIOUSLY FOR ONCE. There is not one past winner or past nominee (who isn't just ass kissing) that doesn't think these awards are complete BS. Trust me... we all talk about it. The voters are generally not qualified, and the ceremony has become laughable. I haven't attended in the last few years because I'm embarrassed. So...

1. Get the working theatre pros INVOLVED. Meaning we are presenters, performers, or we do SOMETHING at the awards.

2. The Jean Ann Ryan thing has got to go. Sorry, but those people performing have NOTHING to do with our theatre community. NOTHING. It's insulting and embarrassing.

As far as recruiting qualified judges... who knows how to do that? But it's GOT to be done. Past PROFESSIONAL actors, directors, and designers. No more "theatre lovers" who enjoy seeing theatre. Sorry, but we don't care what they think. Ask anyone.

3. Gotta dump the "recommending" system.

... All judges have got to see all the shows. Period. We Tony voters do it, so can the Carbonell folks. The gas price argument doesn't hold water. Ask an actor what they spend in gas every year. :)

4. Downsize the ceremony. Perhaps NO entertainment... just an evening of presenting the awards. Make it a FUN nite of peers getting together to praise each other.

5. Fire the corporate folks. They aren't a part of our theatre community anyway and have no idea of or interest in what we want. If the THEATRE people ran the awards, they'd finally get some credibility.

Good luck... thanks for listening to my ideas.

CL Jahn

1. At least one of the nominators also suggested that we need to get some pros involved: her point was that she had no way to know what should constitute a good lighting or sound design.

2. Jean Ann Ryan is already gone: she was not a part of this past year's ceremonies. I say toss the celebrity hosts, too. Florence was fun, but what did she actually bring? She didn't know any of us, or what we do.

3. I agree that the recommending system is doing far more harm than good, and that judges should see every show.

4. Completely agree.

5. I actually see some logic in having some corporate folks: don't forget, the awards are actually a means to an end, and not the end itself. Maybe THAT is the problem, too.

The award ceremony was originally intended, as I understand it, to be a fundraiser for endowing theater scholarships. But no one outside the committee knows who the recipients are, or how they're accepted. The theatre community has become focused on the awards, because that's the only part of it we actually understand.

Over the years, it's become more more confusing to the general public: who runs the awards and why? Who's eligible, and who isn't? What are the criteria, and are they something the general public can comprehend?

Antonio Amadeo

Thanks, Wayne, for your post. And your list. Now we can have some fun. Let's see what people have to say... (These are responses to Wayne's post. Not CL Jahn's. I'm just taking CL's lead.)

1. I agree, agree, agree!

2. Jean Ann Ryan issue: I AGREE!

Judge issue. I do think the judging panel needs to be nipped and tweaked on a regular basis. Though I'm not entirely sure people don't care what the "theatre lover" contingent of the judges think. There should just be a larger percentage of past theatre professionals or veteran theatre journalists on the judging panel. (I think. This is the fun part. That idiots, like me, can post any ridiculous ideas they think.)

3.I think the recommending system is flawed but EASILY fixable. Sending every judge to see every show might be a bit much. The recommenders have to agree 4 of 6 that, in any one category, the show is judge-worthy.

If a show gets 3 recommenders onboard for lead actress, 3 onboard for lead actor, three for costumes, 3 for production and three for sound design, my understanding is that the production does NOT get recommended because none of the categories got 4 recommendations. That's silly. Clearly a production that draws multiple recommendations in several categories should be passed through. Yes? (If I'm wrong on my facts, someone please correct me.) I would assume that MANY of the quality productions in this community are rejected because of this exact scenario. Tweak that, and the recommendation process works.

And from what I've heard, the gas thing is NOT an issue. The judges are dedicated people who have always been willing to go and see whatever, wherever. No issue.

4. YES, YES YES.

5. I think there's some truth to that. Not entirely, but some. (Wow. I offered nothing on that. Lame.)

What do you think?

CL Jahn

I think your take on the recommending system has a lot of merit.

One of the nominators told me that she'd like to see someone more technical folks on board to weigh the merits of areas like lighting, scenery and sound. Several nominators often are vexed by how to choose nominations in this category.

What makes a more impressive lighting design, for example: a big light show backed by an adequate budget, or clever but effective use of too few instruments on a shoestring? Is a big period costume show more deserving than a contemporary, well-shopped show where the costumes are amazingly appropriate? Should we reward the ability to fabricate from scratch over the ability (or necessity) to choose wisely from existing stock?

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