Theatre Awards: Too much of a good thing?

It was Mae West who once famously said that ‘too much of a good thing can be wonderful,” and while that is indeed true in some instances, it’s not always the case.

Last Sunday, 22nd November 2015, was the 61st Evening Standard Theatre Awards, where Imelda Staunton, Nicole Kidman and James McAvoy were among those honoured for their work on the stage. In a world where theatre is already somewhat of an underdog in the entertainment industry, in comparison to the genre of film and music say, award ceremonies such as these are an integral part of not only rewarding those who contribute to the continuing excellence of the UK theatre industry, but bringing attention to this excellence too. After the Evening Standard Theatre Awards however will come the BroadwayWorld.com UK Awards, followed by the Critics’ Circle Theatre Awards, then the Whatsonstage.com Awards, the Laurence Olivier Awards, the UK Theatre Awards… Do you see where I’m going with this?

Too much of a good thing is not so wonderful when an over-abundance of praise causes the well-meaning intentions behind it to lose their shine. Winning an award is supposed to be a sign of esteem and acknowledgement, a physical symbol of recognition for a job well done. When there are so many different award ceremonies though, it seems to me that there is a risk of diminishing the power they are intended to carry.

In the UK theatre industry, no award carries more power than a Laurence Olivier. It is widely recognised as the most prestigious theatrical prize in this country, and becoming an Olivier Award winner is the equivalent to winning a Tony Award. There is no higher mark of respect. When you then add into the frame the vast array of other theatrical awards, it becomes less of a crowning achievement and more of just one among many – albeit one you may want to win more than any other.

It’s the same story throughout the entertainment industry, mind, and not just in the UK. When it comes to the ‘movie business’ in the good ol’ US of A for instance, they have their main award in The Academy Awards (The Oscars) but also hand out statuettes in the Critics Choice Awards, the Golden Globes, the SAG Awards…you get the point.

The concern with having so many theatre awards is that they may just devalue each other simply through sheer volume. In addition to the theatre awards mentioned here already, there is a rising number of awards being created by theatre websites, such as with the West End Frame Awards or the West End Wilma Awards. Then you have ones which branch out from the main London theatre-centred awards, like the Off-West End Awards which aim to recognise work outside of the West End. More and more seem to appear each year, and this raises the question of just why there are so many?

With every new theatre award that enters the scene, it seems less about honouring the shows and the people in the UK theatre industry and more about drawing in stars and gaining some free publicity. A harsh judgement perhaps, but one which rings true – in some circles at least.

With so many theatre awards being handed out, one of two things is going to happen: we’re either going to see the same people and the same shows winning time after time, which lessens the specialness of winning in the first place, or we’re going to see different results that lie completely at odds with each other. I wrote about the latter issue in a previous article back in March, which highlighted the gap between the industry professionals and the theatre-going public when the nominations for the 2015 Olivier Awards were announced and painted a very different picture in comparison to the Whatsonstage.com Awards the previous month. Miss Saigon star Eva Noblezada, for example, won ‘Best Actress in a Musical’ in the WOS Awards that year, but wasn’t even nominated in the same category in the Oliviers. It makes it almost impossible to know which one offers a true reflection of the industry.

I suppose the real question here though is: do we need so many different theatre awards?

In short, no. It’s absolutely wonderful that we recognise the importance of publically recognising the people in the theatre industry for the work they do, for undoubtedly they should be recognised for it. While theatre awards most definitely have their place in the industry, it should be a limited space reserved for only a relevant few, such as the Oliviers. Perhaps the quote which is the most apt in this respect is this one:

Less is more.

By Julie Robinson: @missjulie25

Wednesday 25th November 2015