by Clark Groome
The Barrymore Awards for Excellence in Theatre are returning after a one-year hiatus. For the first time since the Philadelphia awards were given in 1995, there were no awards for the 2012-2013 season.
The Barrymores, which are awarded in 21 categories to local theaters ranging in size from the tiniest companies to the giant Walnut Street, were originally managed by the Theatre Alliance of Greater Philadelphia. When that organization folded a year ago, the Barrymores were one of the casualties.
According to Mt. Airy resident and the Azuka Theatre’s producing artistic director Kevin Glaccum, the local theater community, when surveyed about whether or not they wanted the awards to return, overwhelmingly supported the idea. Close to 90% of the 971 theater artists, administrators, educators and patrons surveyed thought the Barrymores should return. And return they will.
Glaccum, who chairs the newly formed Theatre Philadelphia’s board of directors, says that beginning with the upcoming season, the Barrymore Awards will be awarded based on a new set of criteria that will correct some of the problems the awards faced during the last few years when the Theatre Alliance was in charge.
The reestablished awards require that eligible theaters be within a 30-mile radius of City Hall; that each theater be a 501(c)3 or fiscally sponsored organization; that each actor is paid a minimum of $150/week, designers a minimum of $500/show and directors a minimum of $750/show; and that each show have at least 12 performances.
The most important change in the awards program, Glaccum says, is the return to the two-tiered voting system. It’ll work this way: Eight nominators will be sent to see each participating/eligible production. Five votes in any one category will take a show to the next round where all the judges (likely 10 to 12) will be required to see it. Judges will see 50 to 60 productions a season, down from the 90 to 100 under the old rules. Another change will be quarterly meetings of the judges to discuss the shows they’ve seen.
Along with the more stringent eligibility criteria, Glaccum says, “We wanted the adjudication process to be run by theater professionals: someone who makes theater or works in theater as an academic or a critic. What that will preclude is the well-meaning audience member, the person who just loves the theater.”
Glaccum, 54, says that the Philadelphia Theater community “produces world-class theater. I am exceptionally proud to make my career among these artists. They deserve an awards ceremony.
“It reflects on the community here and nationally that the quality is high enough that we can support an awards [program].”
In order to pay for the administration of the awards, a participating theater will contribute $60 for each show being considered. It’s likely that all of the local theater companies that meet the criteria will participate. “We have something like 65 professional theater companies in Philadelphia [that] produce a huge range of work, both in content and scale. That deserves to be recognized.”
In addition to the 21 awards in production categories, Theatre Philadelphia will also continue to present four other awards: The Lifetime Achievement Award; the F. Otto Haas Award for an Emerging Theatre Artist, which carries with it a $10,000 cash prize for the winner and $1,000 for each of the four runners-up; The $25,000 Brown Martin Philadelphia Award which honors a production that demonstrates the ability of theater to illuminate the ways we live and interact with others as we seek to build community; and the new June and Steve Wolfson Award for an Evolving Theatre Company.
Even though there will be no production awards for 2012-2013, the Lifetime Achievement, Haas, Brown Martin and Wolfson Awards will be presented this fall just as the new full-fledged Barrymore program and the 2013-2014 theater season are getting underway.
Since theaters of various sizes and various budgets are competing for the same awards, Glaccum made it clear that for those evaluating the shows, “Imagination is more important than money.”