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With a founder's passing, whither the Carbonells?

Jack_zink_sunsentinel_phot My friend Jack Zink died in August.  So many times since then, I've been listening to the buzz of theater talk at an opening or read something about theater or pondered political maneuvering in South Florida's theater community, and I've wanted to talk to Jack about it.  Oh, what I wouldn't give to hear what Jack might say about today's announcement that the Carbonell Awards program is suspending operations for 2009.  I think it would be a long, emotional conversation.

Jack, you see, was one of the principal founders of South Florida's theater awards program in 1976.  He treated the not-for-profit program, which honors the best work in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties (touring shows and those who contribute to the arts get recognition too), as a second job.  Workaholic Jack not only covered theater, classical music and arts politics for the Sun Sentinel, but he also labored for his church, his condo board and the Carbonells.  Without him, it's safe to say, the Carbonells wouldn't exist.

This morning, a press release from the Carbonell board made that point distressingly clear.  Board chair Les Feldman, the publisher emeritus of Playbill, cited the high cost of gas for nominators and judges, the downsizing of South Florida's arts media pool, the crummy economy and Jack's death as reasons that the board (which also includes producer Jay Harris, PR exec Savannah Whaley, Broward Center CEO Mark Nerenhausen, Kravis Center CEO Judith Mitchell, Jerome Cohen and Ricardo Gonzalez, nephew of sculptor and awards designer Manuel Carbonell) voted to spend 2009 revamping the program.  True, there will still be a Carbonell ceremony this spring to honor the shows of 2008.  But as for anything that opens in 2009?  It will fall into this black hole in the 33-year-old awards program.

Through the years, there have been uncounted voters, volunteers, board members and theater pros who have contributed to the Carbonells' success.  From the beginning, dissent and kvetching have been part of the experience, and what wasn't said in today's press release is that some theaters have complained bitterly about the current nominating/judging process.  But when Jack was around, problems got addressed, even if some weren't happy with the outcome.  It absolutely takes a village for a program like the Carbonells to happen. But Jack was king of the village.

Perhaps, with the hiatus, the Carbonells will come back in grander fashion.  Or maybe they'll be leaner but better.  Or maybe they'll not come back at all.  I can't help thinking that, given the fact that Jack worked right up 'til his death on trying to make sure the Carbonells could continue, this isn't the choice he would have made.

How about you?  Vote in the poll, and if you have more to say pro or con, please comment.

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Richard Jay Simon

Dear Christine,

I greatly admire the grace and class with which you crafted this blog entry. It is something that I should really learn from and will try to achieve in this response.

The subtext of the article echoes harshly within the arts community. I assure you it has not been met with such grace as you exhibited here. The arts are in such a volatile and fragile place with the media coverage seemingly shrinking with each passing day. The economy, in its current state threatens the arts as well. I know that I’m preaching to the choir on this.

No theater town can be taken seriously without an institutional award system in place. I am hurt that the bigger picture was not seen here.

The Carbonell committee, although not intentional, is sending a message to the public and to the artists that invest their soul in South Florida that the arts do not matter. I’m heartbroken over this.

I request that the Carbonell Committee conduct a round-table discussion with the artistic heads of the theaters, select actors and designers in South Florida. Without us, there are no Carbonell Awards and I cannot understand why these crucial decisions are made in a vacuum. Perhaps we all could have assisted, collaborated and formulated a plan to keep the Carbonell Awards going. It is not too late.

I also wish that a personal phone call had come from a representative of the Carbonell committee informing me of this decision rather than a press release filled with reasons I don’t feel warrant canceling the 2009 awards.

I recognize that the Carbonell Awards, Inc. is a business but it is set up as a not-for-profit organization which means that it is rooted in the community. This is a dark day in South Florida and I hope this decision is reversed.

We all miss our friend Jack Zink and I would bet my life that he would never, ever allow the Carbonell’s to cease to exist. He would fight and work through the night, every night, to ensure that this symbol of South Florida theater would remain in tact. He would never give up. Who is the next champion of the arts? Who is going to pick up Jack’s torch and not allow the flame to burn out on what he spent his life to create? This is not the way to honor the memory of Jack Zink.

I hope the Carbonell Committee chooses to reopen this discussion and breathe life into overturning this decision. It's simply the right thing to do. Perhaps this is why the Carbonell site has been down for the past few months?

If this decision isn’t reversed the Carbonell’s may never return and that would set this community back decades. While artists may bitch and moan about the voting structure – it was always spirited discussion – as it is in any awards system – regardless if it’s the Tony, Academy Award's, ESPY’s, etc. I would hate to think of it as any other way.

It’s funny, the reasons the committee seemingly slammed their doors on this thing are the very same reason they should have decided to embrace it.

Respectfully,

Richard Jay Simon
Executive/Artistic Director
Mosaic Theatre Theatre

CL Jahn

I think the Theatre League has fallen short in its leadership position. The Carbonell Awards are a crucial tool for community outreach; it's just about the only thing the League does that gets the attention of the public for even a second.

They've thrown the baby out with the bath-water. Very short-sighted.

It's time for someone with vision to take over the awards, and that apparently excludes the Theatre League.

Antonio Amadeo

Please don't make assumptions about the Theatre League and their position with the Carbonell Awards. The Carbonell committee and the Theatre League are two entirely different entities. The Theatre League doesn't have the power nor the right to just step in and fix things. There is interest with the Theatre League to aid in this issue, but it's not that easy.

Among other issues, there are several independent theatre producers, local actors, directors and such on the board of the Theatre League and that presents a serious conflict of interest when it comes to the Carbonells. I agree the Theatre League's involvement is crucial, and there is a place for the Theatre League in this, but the Carbonell board is responsible for this situation and how to fix it. I'm sure if they wanted help from the Theatre League, they would be more then willing to help.

Meredith Lasher

As the President of the Theatre League of South Florida, I can tell you that our organization has absolutely no involvement in the Carbonell Awards and had no participation in the decision to suspend the Awards. The Theatre League Executive Board will convene today to determine the next steps in constructively communicating with our membership and the Board of Directors for the Carbonell Awards.

Meredith Lasher
President
Theatre League of South Florida

John Felix

With all respect, it seems to me that this decision by the Carbonell board not only dishonors the memory of Jack Zink, it dishonors the Carbonell board itself, not to mention the theatre community of South Florida.

The reasons given for the suspension strike me as trifling, and it is tantamount almost to a law of life that when a suspension is implemented, very rarely or ever is it lifted, so we seem to be attending the funeral of the Carbonell Awards, so soon after Jack's.

Nobody has ever been entirely happy with the nominating process, as we all know, but at least there has been a process, however flawed, especially in recent years, with the apparent attempt to "brand" the Carbonell Awards name and the increasingly corporate-seeming approach that has been introduced. But now it seems likely there will be no process at all, not even a flawed one.

Decry as we may the invidious nature of an awards procedure for what, in the final analysis, involves an essentially subjective judgment (I don't think there's an American Board of Standards for Achievement in the Theatre), I think all working theatre professionals have enjoyed being compensated for hard work to some degree with a nomination or an award and would like to continue to be so rewarded.

And what is to happen to the vaunted scholarship program that has been an important part of the Awards' raison d'etre?

I hope I am over-reacting and that I will have to eat these words in 2010.

Or is it perhaps time for the working theatre community to bestir itself and institute its own awards program (perhaps on a reduced scale) along the lines of the Tonys?

Kim Morgan Dean

As a relative "newbie" to this community, I only have experience with one Carbonell season. But, in that time, I can see what a positive asset the Carbonells are to this community, particularly in a time when media coverage is on the brink of extinction. If we want to "save the arts" in this economic climate, we are going to need all the allies we can get...and the Carbonells are indeed a powerful one. THIS is the time to solve these problems- as a cohesive community - if we rest on our laurels for a year, we run the risk of losing this institution for good.

How can we expect the rest of the country to respect our theatre community if we don't?

It feels appropriate to quote A Chorus Line:
"Don't tell me theatre's dying. I just got here!"

Joseph Adler

Below is an email I sent Jay Harris today:

Dear Jay,

When we discussed this by phone yesterday, I felt you had some very viable ideas on how to approach fixing the Carbonell issues. Based on the reactions I have received, I think the theatre community really wants to have an emergency meeting to discuss ALL the alternatives.

I think Bill Hirschman’s comments below deserve to be vetted:

"As far as the economics, the board appears blinded by the difference between the awards themselves and the multi-media presentation event. Since the nominating, judging and administration has been nearly cost-free, the primary expense is the controversial and ever-growing banquet/ceremony which many people have questioned. If the ceremony needs to be curtailed, so be it. That decision does not require canceling the awards, even for a year."

"As far as the critic problem, there remains myself, Christine, Mary, Brandon, Hap is working for Stuart, Charles Passy and another person are at the Post, Al Price, Ron Levitt and others I’m forgetting."

Jay, while I recognize the problems and the time constraints—I feel that we MUST at least hold a meeting ASAP. This could be done through the auspices of the Carbonell Committee , Theatre League, Actors’ Equity and Producer’s Forum.

What are your thoughts?

Warmest,
Joe

Btw, the Theatre League and Producer's Forum should have no formal involvement in decision-making. However, I've always felt that if they had been apprised of developments they could have offered (non-binding) suggestions and comments. Perhaps then we would all be more inclined to accept the decisions that are made by the Carbonell committee.

Chris Demos-Brown

For local playwrights especially this is a serious setback. No one writes for prizes or awards, but winning--or even being nominated for them--opens doors.

Not to mention what a boost the Carbonells are for theatres that do cutting edge work like MadCat and Naked Stage!

I fear this is a harbinger of some very bad times for a vibrant theatre community unless we get together and take some action. There's got to be a way to sit down with the Carbonell folks, figure out what problems are, and solve them, yes? Tell me where, when, and what's needed, and I'm in.

Douglas C. Evans

After seeing this news, I thought I would post a comment and address one of the reasons for suspending (the cost of gas, etc.).

I have been a Tony Voter since 1987 and with it the expense of going to NY to see the shows throughout the year and vote at the end of the season. As a Member of the Broadway League (formerly The League of American Theaters and Producers) while we did not pay for our two tickets to each show, my annual dues to "belong" and get my two "free" tickets is now $2,200 per year. All the other costs are mine....hotel, air, etc. and I am proud to do this to support the industry in NYC which is our pipeline here.

There are many of us in the region who are qualified to see the shows in the region and vote without a conflict of interest and who are also willing to absorb the "expense".

On another note.....what I don't think people in this area know is that these awards are closely monitored every year by the producers of the tours and many others in NYC.

I hope there is reconsideration and I for one am willing to help in any way I can!

CL Jahn

I apologize for my mistake in believing that the Theatre League was more involved with the Carbonells than it actually is. Perhaps both organizations need to work on their PR: if I confused the two, it's a good bet that many others are also confusing the two.

The central fact is that this is a phenomenally bad decision. There must be a middle ground between the current approach to the awards, and canceling them outright.

This decision was handled very, very, badly. I know many judges for the awards, and every single one of them was caught off guard. I find it hard to comprehend that the Committee would take such a drastic step without consulting those working on their behalf "in the trenches." Very unprofessional. Jack must be spinning in his grave at a hundred miles an hour over this.

If the organization is feeling that it's spread too thin, one obvious solution is to return to earlier criteria, and only judge the larger theatres for the short term. A lot of the theatres now eligible would not have been considered "back in the day."

Or maybe we just need to ignore the Carbonell Committee completely, and start giving out "Jacks," named for our beloved and lamented Jack Zink. Perhaps the Theatre League could step up to the plate, and take on the task I assumed they already had.

If the Carbonell Committee lacks the resolve, I say to hell with, do it without them.

Roger Martin

I'd like to suggest a quick fix to the Carbonell problem.

1 Do away with the Nominator/Judge categories. (If you have a pool of voters, use them)

2 Require all voters to see all shows. (Can be as many as seventy or eighty shows per season. A minimum of thirty five shows attended is required to continue as a voter.)

3 Voters can see and nominate a show at any time during the run. (Why should a show be judged solely on its opening night?)

4 Nomination requires only that the voter sees something award worthy in the show, be it directing, lights, sound, production, acting, writing etc.

5 All voters report weekly on the shows they have seen, with their yes or no votes for nomination. The voters' names and their choices are listed on the weekly hotline. A simple majority at the end of each run determines which shows are nominated.

6 At the end of the voting year all voters meet and vote on which of the nominated shows and categories will picked for final judging.

Does the above sound pretty simple and effective? It should. It's roughly how the voting was run prior to and during the years I was a Carbonell voter. In 2005, with changes impending, I wrote to the board suggesting the status quo be maintained. In 2006 the Nominator/Judge system was implemented and I was no longer a member of the voting committee.

I believe that being a voter is an honor and a privilege. Asking voters to spend time and money is not an imposition. After all, those great house seats are free. And the shows are wonderful.

Roger Martin

Lisa Morgan

These are difficult days for all of us, and very difficult days in the arts.

South Florida has one of the most exciting theatre communities in the country and the Carbonell Awards has always been a part of that community.

I understand that the Committee may have difficulties in this economy. However, surely a restructure is not impossible - better that than cancelling such an engine of theatre promotion.

If Chicago can have the Jeffs - can't we have the Carbonells?

Wayne LeGette

I sent this email to Richard earlier today...

Brilliant Richard... you have spoken for us all and I was so hoping someone would ask for this. Many many years ago (in 1997 I think) I had many discussions with Mr. Zink expressing my dissatisfaction with the Carbonell awards under that system. I've always wanted them to be structured more like the Jeff's in Chicago. He was very open to the criticism, and I think in some small way I made a difference.

I humbly request that some past Carbonell winners be included in this discussion. Since we have received the honor of an award (or two or more) we can criticize the process without it coming off like sour grapes. :)

And, perhaps for the first time, the people's voices (who actually make a living doing live theatre) can be heard regarding these awards.

Thank you,
Wayne LeGette

john manzelli

Bravo to Christine for crafting this issue in such a kind and well intentioned way. Certainly, no issue stirs up the passion and bile of this community like the Carbonells. We feign indifference when selected and indignity when not. But the great majority of us, who love south florida theater, want the Carbonnells to exist. We understand that they are important to the legitimacy of this community.. They are a piece of the puzzle that brings us closer to cities like Chicago, New York, & D.C. (even though I believe our work is every bit as good as theirs). And yes, the system is a little flawed! So what! They are an honor not a right! Tweak them! Scale back the ceremony if money is really an issue. Let’s all have glasses of wine at Joe’s, read the awards and celebrate each other. We don’t need a show featuring performers who are not from south florida. Make the nominating process require only three votes instead of four. Honestly, if 3 out of 6 voters don’t think you have a shot to get nominated then you probably don’t, no matter how much we producers or directors think our “genious” was missed. All awards are flawed. The Tony’s are flawed terribly. The Oscars are flawed in ways that are so entrenched-we use those flaws to guess how they will turn out!
Most importantly, the people who dedicate their time and energy to do this are good people who care a lot. They deserve more respect for their opinions and decisions than they are given. I hope that we don’t open this conversation up to hundreds of producers and actors-that sounds like a disaster (no offense to anyone). I simple hope that the Carbonell committee realizes how important this is to the community and reconsiders. And I hope that when the awards are continued, the community will be gracious enough to remember that it wants these awards and treat the Carbonell voters who give up their time to bring them to us with more respect than we have in the past. They aren’t always right, so be it.

Margery Lowe

Whether it be a ceremony offering scholarship awards, a gathering in celebration of the arts in So. Fla., or a continuation of the awards ceremony, redefined, if necessary, the Carbonell organization (founded by Jack) is a vital, unifying symbol of the mutual support of the arts here (on both a local and national level). I hope it can be given every effort to grow and thrive, not wither away. We all know how passionate Jack felt about this and it falls to all of us to help find a solution to maintain its integrity and continued support.

Kevin Johnson

Bring back the Curtain Up Awards!

Rafael de Acha

It is sad to see the Carbonell Board take this wrongheaded decision without any input or participation from or by the theatre community at large. We all know that times are changing and things are quite different than they were 20, 10, or 5 years ago. We all know that Jack Zink was a formidable force that took the Carbonell Awards to a very high level. But, the dwindling down of the critical community, the price of gas, and the terrible state of the economy should be no reasons to terminate the Carbonells. Dressing up in tuxes and watching a variety show is not what will be lost. Nobody cares much about that. The validating and recognition of the work of hundreds of theatre artists and of a good number of theatres year in, year out, will be lost, maybe for good. That will throw the baby out with the bathwater. Somebody get to the board members and ask them to reconsider or resign. Get a new board, made up of theatre peers. Run the organization on a shoestring budget, dispense with the banquets and the glamour and keep theatre going and reward its craftsmen.

Rafael de Acha

Tom Dillickrath

As a long-time veteran of the SoFla theatre scene and a two-time winner, from my perch here in Washington DC, this is just so sad. The Carbonells were a great opportunity for the whole community to gather and celebrate our work over the past year. I have not been since I moved in 2002, but I always enjoyed the fact that (in my tenure) things were simple, and not the spectacle I understand now takes place.
I urge everyone who has been involved in the community to do whatever they can to continue on Jack's tradition. Jack was nice to me, Jack was mean to me, but I always knew Jack cared about theatre (no matter how wrong he was on the bad reviews). A return to the celebration of theater that Jack originally instituted is warranted. No banquets, no second-tier hosts, no expensive bands, just a return to the spirit of the awards that I knew between 1993-2002.

Wayne LeGette

A quick response to Kevin's comment about the Curtain Ups...

No... absolutely. A more embarrassing night was never had than the one time I attended those awards. No offense to the people who created them... but the ceremony was the most amateurish thing I have ever witnessed.

Time for us all to stop settling for the usual crap and start setting a higher bar. If the awards are going to mean a damn thing, they need to have some degree of class.

Antonio Amadeo

Ditto. Mother #*@&en' Ditto!!!!! I agree entirely, Wayne.

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