Monday, January 30, 2012

I don’t know you, but I love you.

Contributed by Guest Blogger of the Week, Hillary Cohen.

Everything you need to know about my family background, you can get from seeing a good production of anything by Neil Simon. I was raised 20 minutes outside of New York City by the kind of White Flight pseudo-intellectuals who wanted me to appreciate free thinking artists, but not starve like one.

So, as my IT Staff bio says, I saw my first Off-Off-Broadway play as a second grader in 1988 and have been hooked ever since. I cannot act, know very little about creating good design, and am more likely to inadvertently alienate a talented cast than direct them effectively, but I EFFING LOVE THEATER. Everything to do with it.

I’ve always done “support”. That means for nearly 25 years, I have been helping creative people create. I copy edit program text. I merge whole company’s crazy availability into a cohesive production schedule. I organize grant application attachments in the order they appear in the guidelines. Most importantly: I see stuff, attend attentively, and proselytize for my favorites. I’m a fan.

And you are…? And this is in reference to…?

The above preamble is to say, I know most of you don’t really know me. Maybe you’ve talked to our amazing Founding Directors. They are excellent as the Face of the Organization because they are passionate, articulate, and naturally good looking. Maybe you heard about us through our inspiring Company, Communications, or Outreach volunteer staff. Hopefully, you’re reading this blog because you want to engage with the larger Off-Off-Broadway community the IT Awards strives to represent.

The Judge Wrangler can be, at times, a shadowy figure. Most of our registration and adjudication process happens entirely online through web forms and automated emails. (If any of this is unclear, PLEASE check out the presentation here or the video here.) I don’t know what scores anyone puts on their ballot and I don’t want to know. My job is to keep the elegant IT Awards system moving and I take my job pretty seriously.

I like making lists.
That is why some of the emails we Judge Co-Coordinators get surprise the heck out of me! I’d really like to use my first Guest Blogger post to address them.

Who am I to judge?
  1. You aren’t Theater Critics.
    Sometimes we get an email saying the production cannot find a company member to serve as delegate judge because they do not feel qualified to judge their peers. Don’t confuse participating in the adjudication process with being a Theater Critic.

    Criticism as a profession has developed from journalistic tradition of analysis and editorializing. Tony Scott in no more a filmmaker than Paul Krugman’s a senator. Shows are registered with us by artists who want to be seen and scored by their peers; their fellow Indy Theater practitioners. They are choosing to participate in the more than just their company; they are inviting in the larger Indy scene. Take them up on this invitation…and let them know how close to “flawless” they get. Which brings us to:
  2. The community (YOU) defines what is Outstanding.
    The awards are decided based on a peer evaluation system. When a production is registered, the producers understand and accept that their fellow OOB practitioners and their audience will be determining their final scores. The IT Awards do not recognize Outstanding Level of Dedication or Outstanding Execution of a Stated Vision or Outstanding Ability to Produce Against Difficult Odds. If they did, I seriously think you would all win. Seriously.

    Hundreds of productions register every year. To be one of the few recognized out of that big a group really is an honor. By averaging 3 peer judges’ with the total audience scores, the IT Awards gather responses as diverse as the registrant pool. We don’t suffer from Flavor of the Month style prevailing preferences or the traditional expectations of an established Old Guard because the voters change as much and as often as the community does. Which brings us to:
  3. The schedule doesn’t care if it is your cup of tea.
    Some judges “cherry pick” their assignments. Not all, but some. I sincerely wish they didn’t. For every judge who only accepts proposed judging assignments for which they would have bought a ticket anyway…there is an equal and opposite producer who doesn’t want “some random Board Member from a Children’s Puppet Theater” judging their distinctly not Children’s Puppet Theater show.

    Trust me, folks. Producers, you want the randoms! They will see your work with fresh eyes and you’ll get more honest feedback in the Comments. Sure everyone wants to see their friends' work, but you learn more and get a greater perspective when you see the unexpected and the previously unknow.  I was a relatively popular kid in senior high and in my college theater troupe, so I remember how great clique membership can be. Cliques, however, can suffer from Groupthink. Don’t let Groupthink get in the way of your theater company’s growth and your growth as an artist. Supporting one another is good. Letting it keep you from getting better is sad.

    And Judges, you want to randomly see something you would not pick on your own! It might be super weird or super predictable in the exact opposite way your work is not, it might remind you of how great your work is in comparison, it might remind you what not to do.
    If you’ve ever complained that you’ve never heard of the nominees or that nothing you’ve judged has gotten nominated, I respectfully suggest you ask yourself if you accepted the “never heard of them” assignments to actively score a show in or out of the running or filed an audience member ballot for work that really stuck with you. This is how your honest reaction ensures the season’s highest scores really do go to what the community deems its most outstanding work.
I know you’re busy, but we throw a couple of fun parties each summer. It would be great to see you there. Maybe you’ll actually meet me then. If not, just know I’m a huge fan.

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