The Playgoer: NY Innovative Theatre Awards

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Tuesday, September 25, 2007

NY Innovative Theatre Awards

It may not have been a three-hour unwatched CBS special, but the new Tonys of Off-Off Broadway, the NY Innovative Theatre Awards, were handed out last night.

And the winners were...

Outstanding Ensemble Boo Killebrew, Julia Lowrie Henderson, Ryan Purcell, Max Rosenak, Phillip Taratula and Daniel Walker Stowell
6969, CollaborationTown, A Theatre Company Inc.

Outstanding Solo Performance Mike Houston
The Ledge, Eavesdrop

Outstanding Actor in a Featured Role Joe Plummer
As You Like It, Poortom Productions

Outstanding Actress in a Featured Role Boo Killebrew
6969, CollaborationTown, A Theatre Company Inc.

Outstanding Actor in a Leading Role Max Rosenak
6969, CollaborationTown, A Theatre Company Inc.

Outstanding Actress in a Leading Role Susan Louise O'Connor
The Silent Concerto, Packawallop Productions, Inc.

Outstanding Choreography/Movement Dan Safer
Dancing Vs the Rat Experiment, La MaMa ETC in association with Witness Relocation

Outstanding Director Daniel Talbott
Rules of the Universe, Rising Phoenix Repertory

Outstanding Lighting Design Peter Hoerburger
The Present Perfect, The Operating Theater

Outstanding Costume Design David Withrow
Bug Boy Blues, The Looking Glass Theatre
[not "Lookingglass" of Chicago, btw]

Outstanding Set Design George Allison
Picasso at the Lapin Agile, T. Schreiber Studio

Outstanding Sound Design Ryan Maeker & Tim Schellenbaum
Dancing Vs the Rat Experiment, La MaMa ETC in association with Witness Relocation

Outstanding Original Music Leanne Darling
The Landlord, Toy Box Theatre Company

Outstanding Original Full Length Script Saviana Stanescu
Waxing West, East Coast Artists

Outstanding Original Short Script Daniel Reitz
Rules of the Universe, Rising Phoenix Repertory

Outstanding Production of a Performance Art Piece Dancing Vs the Rat Experiment
La MaMa ETC in association with Witness Relocation

Outstanding Production of a Musical Urinetown
The Musical, The Gallery Players

Outstanding Production of a Play Bouffon Glass Menajoree
Ten Directions
[I don't know about "outstanding" but I reviewed it rather favorably here]

Some info about the awards:

They're judged by a combination of outside adjudicators, artists nominated by the various "registered" shows considered (though they don't judge their own shows), and audience votes.

What counts as Off-Off Broadway, at least for these awards is:

  1. Productions must complete 8 performances during the season. (Our "seasons" run from June 1 to May 31 each year. For shows that have performances over two seasons, if the final performance occurs after June 7, or the second Sunday of June (whichever comes first), the show will be considered in the later season.)
  2. At least eight of the production's performances must fall on eight separate days within a 30-day window.
  3. Total production budget must be less than $40,000 (between $0 and $40,000).
  4. Ticket price must be $30 or less (between "Free" and $30).
  5. Performances must be in Brooklyn, Manhattan or Queens (all theatres must be within walking distance (12 blocks) of public transportation or else transportation must be provided)
  6. Producers must be based within the five boroughs of New York City.
Overall, an interesting alternative to both the irrelevant Tonys and more expansive OBIE 's (which cover both Off- and Off-Off, some with budgets well over $40,000.) Yes, awards should not be overvalued. But if it helps to promote work being done on this level, more power to 'em.


Anonymous said...

About six million people watched the 2007 Tony Awards. According to Nielsen, more than 8 million watched CSI: Miami a couple of weeks ago. The last Tonys may not have been terribly good viewing and in TV land, six million may indeed be something to sneeze at, but aren't you perpetuating a myth of irrelevance & invisibility by saying that 6 million is NOTHING? Trying to be half full here.

Mike Daisey said...

I have to say that I investigated these awards, and getting a production qualified for them is extremely difficult--it involves fees, registrations, serving as judges on other shows--and these elements make it all seem a bit clubby and uninclusive. To be brutally frank, I follow a lot of downtown theater and I've heard of Susan Louise O'Connor, and aside from her I've never heard of any of the rest of these shows, in any context. So if the IT Awards wants to be relevant to anyone outside themselves I think they need to do more outreach and make it attractive and simple for productions to participate.

Rocco said...

On the contrary, I was surprsed to see five people that I either know well or are very familiar with. All are people who's work I have great respect for, and who deserve recognition.

And, having been skeptical of the IT Awards, I'm impressed that they somehow seem to be getting it right.

How does one become a voter?

Playgoer said...

I suppose you're right, David, that I was being a tad hyperbolic. Yes, I will admit the Tonys certainly feel relevant to B'way producers, who do occasionally stand to profit from winning one.

I meant irrelevant more in the sense of telling us what was truly excellent in American theatre across the board in a given season. What with most of the nominations going to Brits or whatever 3rd musical managed to last past opening night, I just don't know what the Tonys say about american theatre arts anymore.

Anonymous said...

Ah, well, I can't disagree with you there. I would never argue that the Tonys are aesthetically relevant, just commercially. There really is no national platform, the Pulitzer included, that can be trusted as a seal of approval on Theater Art of National Importance. There's the Best Plays Yearbook series (the latest edition of which contains an essay by me), which is a record, as are Martin Denton's collections and Brook Stowe's yearly journals. The sad truth is, there IS an audience out there for the Tonys, however small. The Tonys just doesn't know how to represent theater as an art that extends beyond Broadway. It would be nice if they spent 10 minutes to give a shout out to an Off or Off-Off venue/company/playwright.

Anonymous said...

I'm curious, though, Playgoer: What could you envision as a televised event that could significantly represent the hugely varied, multidisciplinary and inherently local/far-flung multiverse of American theater to the public?

Anonymous said...

There are no fees involved in registering shows with the NYITA. I've had 5 shows registered with them and would have had more but they only brought Brooklyn spaces into the awards late last year (and I was pleased that The Brick, where I work, wound up in this first year with 12 nominations and 2 wins for shows in our space). I've found the whole process extremely simple, myself, and it has only taken me a large amount of time when registering shows with large casts, many of whom I was putting up for awards in the acting categories.

You do a simple registration at the site and then can vote on shows you've seen (and yes, this is a bit . . . unsettlingly honor-system oriented, maybe). Audience votes count for 25% in the judging, the other 75% coming from the judges assigned to the show (three per show).

I just attended a show last night as a judge for the awards, and saw a show I wouldn't have paid much attention to otherwise that I enjoyed a great deal, which has generally been the case with the shows I've seen as a judge.

You are supposed to see three shows for each one of yours registered, but sometimes there are more judges than shows, so I haven't HAD to see an overwhelming amount of shows. I've wound up going to spaces I've never been before in judging shows, and seeing people, companies, and work I would have never known otherwise -- it feels the opposite of clubby and uninclusive to me, as its put me in touch with elements of OOB that I wouldn't have been aware of.

I think the awards will improve as more companies/spaces become aware of them and join in - the pool has been noticably growing fast since they started, and the inclusion of Brooklyn spaces has helped a lot. I'm supportive of anything that brings attention to the whole scope of OOB in the city, not only specific companies/"scenes" here and there.

Mike Daisey said...

I apologize for believing that one needed to pay fees to participate--but that might be better than the system described above, to be honest--if they had some money maybe they'd be able to work up a system for judging that doesn't involve producers acting as judges for other producers' shows, which seems really wrongheaded to me.

Anonymous said...

It's also a pity they didn't copy one of the best things about the Obies: No categories with a list of nominees from among whom one is chosen. True, operatively Obie judges might think in terms of "nominations" or "categories," but I have always appreciated that there's no, say, single "best actor," award that a bunch of people are publicly announced for as nominees, and then only one of them wins. Obies have their own clubby nature, among other things, but the lack of anyone publicly losing is a great thing about them that I wish all awards would do.

Anonymous said...

I was happy to attend the awards show and thought NYIT did a terrific job that deserves much credit. After seeing several of the same shows nominated several times, I did start to wonder just how many shows were in the pool to begin with. Were these few shows that much better on so many levels than everything else? Does anyone know, or is it published anywhere, the number of shows from which the nominations were selected?

Anonymous said...

My name is Shay Gines and I am one of the Executive Directors for the IT Awards. Thank you so much for writing about us. I was also really happy to see the feedback. We hardly ever get a chance to hear what people really think. I wanted to respond to a couple of the comments. The IT Awards were founded to help bring recognition to Off-Off-Broadway and to help nurture the Off-Off-Broadway community. The judging system is a direct result of trying to provide opportunities for artists to see each others' work, free of charge. Just as Ian said above it is a venue for artists to see the work of other Off-Off-Broadway companies and artists, some of which they might otherwise never become familiar with. And the judge delegate does not have to be the producer. They can be anyone involved with the production (actor, playwright, board member). We ask that judges see 3 assigned shows through out the season. We never ask for money to be involved. Off-Off-Broadway has a tremendous about of energy, creativity, enthusiasm, determination… but not a lot of money. We did not want to put any more financial strain on the community. So it does not cost a thing to register. As a judge, you are provided with 2 comps to shows you are assigned to see and if you are a nominee you receive 2 comps to the nominee announcement and to the ceremony itself.

The point of the awards (as well as the nominations) is to help generate interest, press and promotional opportunities for those nominated.

This last season, we adjudicated over 300 productions. At the end of each year, the ballots go through a fraud detection and analysis. Yes we have come across some folks attempting to ballot stuff and we had to let them know that their ballots would not be counted. And we did have to disqualify a judge once. The ballots are tallied and verified by an independent public accountant. We really do try to make it as fair as we possibly can. And of course we are always trying to improve it to help it work better for the community, so if you have suggestions, bring 'em on. You can reach me at if you have any questions or ideas.

Anonymous said...

I agree that giving recognition to small productions off the radar of mainstream coverage is a worthy enterprise - but the resulting nominations seem extremely clubby - friends nominating friends.

Anonymous said...

Another word about the Tonys and what is happening in American theater: Since 1976, the Tony Awards have honored regional theater companies, which are carefully vetted by people (national theater critics) who visit theaters around the country.

Whenever New Yorkers whine about how Broadway and the Tonys do not represent "American theater," it makes me wonder just how many times those same folks have visited theaters in Chicago, Twin Cities, Seattle, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Denver, Dallas and so on.

I have found, usually, that the complainers rarely see theater anywhere outside the five boroughs (and maybe the McCarter, Yale Rep, the Long Wharf, and DC).

And what about all of those productions that come from "American theater" to Broadway or Off or Off Off?

This desire for a National Theatre is a tired, old conversation. There is no National Theatre because it's a big goddamn country (which is probably why you haven't seen enough outside of NYC).

Try focusing on how all theater can be made great--whatever that means--and be glad that the Tonys have not been dropped from the television schedule in favor of a reality show about how producers connive to win awards.