Friday, July 25, 2008

Behind the Judging System

On Monday, July 21, we announced the nominees for the 2008 New York Innovative Theatre Awards. We have this event early in the summer so that we can use the 2 months leading up to the awards ceremony to really promote the nominees and their outstanding work.

Every year around this time, we receive a number of emails asking us how the nominees are selected. The IT Awards are based on a peer evaluation system. The nominees are selected by a combination of 3 judges from other OOB productions. Each of the judge's ballots are worth 25% of the production's score. The final 25% comes from the average of the audience ballots for that production. There is a fun little video that details this process and a PowerPoint presentation about it. Basically we've set up the infrastructure and maintain it, but the community itself selects the nominees.

Judges are assigned randomly from our pool of judges, which numbers at about 350 at any given time. The only exception to it being entirely random is:

1. We try to have at least 1 At-Large judge* for every production.

2. Judges are asked in advance in which boroughs they are willing to see shows. We only assign them productions in the boroughs that they indicate.

Each year the ballots are all tallied and verified by an independent public accountant and go through careful fraud detection and analysis.

Okay, I do get to see who the nominees are about 6 weeks before they are announced to the rest of the world, but I am always surprised who they are. I've heard through the grapevine that some people think we favor our friends….which amuses me and frustrates me all at the same time. We have gone to such lengths to make sure that this is all legitimate. Nick, Jason and I are not permitted to vote as judges for the awards. So if I really loved a show, the best I could do is cast an audience ballot, which I do for every registered production I see. But that and that alone is the extent of the power I have to get a show nominated. Honestly I was very disappointed when we first made the decision that we could not be judges, but in the long run, it was the right decision. (And I do have to say that one of the things I appreciate about the OOB community is that we are skeptical, we don't just accept things at face value and we are always questioning the status quo to make sure they are on the up-and-up, so even though it may be trying at times, I would rather be questioned about it and address it than have people just think we are trying to pull a fast one.)

It is also important to note that 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. It is a venue for artists to see and become familiar with the work of other Off-Off-Broadway companies and artists, some of which they might otherwise never know.

If you have questions or comments, I'd love to hear them. You can email me at shay at

Shay Gines

*At-Large Judges are judges in the IT Awards judging pool that come from the greater New York theatre community such as reviewers or other well rounded theatre aficionados. As such, they do not represent a specific company or production and can see upwards of 100 Off-Off-Broadway productions every season.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Puppets. Puppets? Puppets!

It's been a very puppet-y couple of weeks for me. It started at Ontological-Hysteric Incubator production of La Santa: Pistola y Corazon by Sintroca, an "Image Based Performance Company". I'm not 100% sure what makes a production company image based, but I do know Innovative Theatre when I see it. The show was an engrossing mixed-media event blending live music, dance, Raymond Chandler film noir, world languages and…puppetry. I liked it a lot and look forward to their next stage creation.

Summer, in general, brings me back to the best parts of my otherwise depressing suburban childhood. The summer of 2002, I arrived at the O'Neill Playwright's Conference approximately a week after Avenue Q had taken the Music Theater Conference by storm. Two summers later, I listened to "Fine, Fine Line" about 1,000 times to get over a painful break-up. When, earlier this summer, I caught their touring company's visit to Charm City Cakes on Ace of Cakes, I was amazed by the show all over again.

I loved IT Award recipient Basil Twist's work on Carrie, starring Sherry Vine, at PS122 and have come to believe that puppets are a brilliant way for OOB to save money. They are the ultimate in elaborate, interactive props AND dual role casting without an extra costume. Every efficiency-minded troupe should seriously consider "hiring" them.

And, of course, "three makes a meme" so tonight, I head way out west for Ars Nova's Jollyship The Whiz-Bang. Puppets ahoy!

Hillary Cohen, New York Innovative Theatre Awards Development Manager

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