It is almost to the end of my first year of service on the Drammy Committee and I wanted to take a moment to share what I have learned.
First, let me be blunt in saying that as I approached this assignment last summer I was very skeptical about the committee and the awards in general. To me, having a winner means that there must be losers and I am of the belief that losers are people who don’t try, don’t risk, don’t lay it on the line. So how can anyone in our community be considered losers when they lay it on the line all the time. We are blessed with an abundance of vision, talent and accomplishment in this theatre community! In fact, back in the day, when I ran Portland Rep, our company did not participate in the “Willies” as they were called in those days for this very reason.
However, after a year on this committee and seeing over 75 shows, I have had a change of heart. There have been suggestions and frustrations in the community that the voting is rigged, unfair, and that the committee just support their friends in the voting. There have been accusations that the committee is biased and practices favoritism, overlooking clearly superior work.
Here is what I have observed. There were 16 people on the committee this year and they come from all walks of theatre life – from actors, to designers, to playwrights, to directors, to critics, to journalists. Each brings with them his or her aesthetic and taste. There is always healthy disagreement and varying opinions. Anyone can make a nomination but it must get three votes to make it on the ballot. Everyone has a chance to make a nomination and everyone does. People are encouraged to make a case for why he or she made a nomination. We are all encouraged to take detailed notes and most of us do.
At the end of the season, all the nominations (sometimes as many as 16) are voted upon. We are encouraged not to compare. A show from a smaller theatre with a smaller budget should be compared to itself, not to a larger and wealthier theatre. This sounds confusing but it is not; after viewing lots of shows, we get a pretty clear idea of what excellence looks like for an individual show or theatre.
When it comes to the final voting – it is secret ballot. There is no brow beating, no pandering. There is great discussion and often times we are offered opportunities to rethink. But in the final analysis, we all vote our conscience. It is fair. The people on the committee in my first year were fair, caring, professional and it is an honor to serve with them.
All my suspicions about the Drammys were off base. I have grown to really respect and appreciate the process and the people. I share this because there are many in our community who feel otherwise and accuse the committee of wrongdoing. They are wrong about this. Just wanted you all to know.
We have a fabulous community and this committee reflects that. We will never all agree on what constitutes excellence and that is as it should be. Disagreement fuels growth. Art should never agree but keep putting one’s individual vision forward. When we stand up and acknowledge excellence we are celebrating growth, risk, and our art form. That is a good thing.