Last night we had the Evening Standard theatre awards. I would have forgotten if it wasn’t for people on twitter, and even then I was happy to ignore them. The case against them is easy, other people have said it best, and it’s like shooting fish in a barrel.
So why am I blogging about them? To my defense, I have no intention of talking about these specific awards. But every year we moan / rejoice / obsess at the mere mention of nominations and ceremonies. (Is there a verb that combines all three? It would save so much time when talking about fandoms). The question is always the same: why aren’t awards better at identifying the best?
What if they were? What if someone had the superpower to know what’s best and told us?
Every year, these gifted individuals would get together and tell us beyond any shadow of a doubt what is the best play, and best revival and who is the best actor and best supporting actor. (If they could tell the difference between lead and supporting on all occasions, I would be really impressed). What then?
Frankly, it’s game over. I don’t go to the theatre to see the best. I go to the theatre because more often than not something amazing happens: a gesture, a moment, in a blink of an eye. Some times, a lot of these moments happen together and they build into something monumental. But other times, it’s small and imperceptible and somewhat muddled. But very human. And I want this as much as I want the big transcendent epiphanies.
The BEST – in bold letters – is intimidating and dead. It has already happened to someone else. It probably looks like a mummy, and unless you are Indiana Jones, mummies don’t look good (and they probably smell).
In the end, awards are a media construction. It’s based on the notion you can measure artistic achievement in a chart from very good to very bad, from success to failure. Success and failure make great headlines. But plays are a dialogue. And they are many things simultaneously, good and bad and interesting failures and boring successes. And how can you rate a conversation while it’s still happening?
I know awards are important for boring practical reasons. I don’t begrudge the theatres and artists who care (after all someone has to count the receipts and people need to work). But I do wish the media would find a different way to talk about theatre. But then, they would have to be open, if not perceptive. And no one can buy that, not even russian oligarchs.