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What Does Acclaim Mean?

By Rick Pender · October 13th, 2010 · Curtain Call
In August it was announced that CityBeat’s longtime Cincinnati Entertainment Awards (CEAs) for theater would join forces with the Acclaims, another local theater recognition program. Since the season began last month, I have worked closely with Acclaims’ volunteers, including Cincinnati Enquirer theater critic and Acclaims founder Jackie Demaline, to evolve and improve the program in several important ways.

In the past, Acclaims were handed out as awards during the season, recognizing excellent work onstage. They were decided by recommendations from a number of well-informed theater people who went to see shows. They were meaningful, to be sure, but the celebration event for winners each spring proved anticlimactic since the results were known in advance.

A new process began for this season: Now five Acclaim panelists see each show on its opening night or soon thereafter. Following a confidential e-mail conversation, they jointly decide if recognition of performers or production elements is warranted. (Demaline and I are often, although not always, part of this discussion.) If a majority of the panel feels a performance or an aspect of the show has attained a level of excellence, it receives a nomination — not an award.

(Recently Michael Haney was nominated as the director of The Understudy at the Cincinnati Playhouse, as was that show’s ensemble cast.) Next spring Acclaim panelists will choose one winner in each category of nominees, and that person or show will be recognized at the award event on May 23, 2011.

Acclaim leaders also decided to offer a new form of recognition, “Acclaim Recommended.” Following a similar process used by the Helen Hayes Awards in Washington, D.C., each panel member simply votes whether a show is one he or she would recommend; if a majority of the panel agrees, that news is shared with the producing theater and disseminated more broadly. Recommendations do not mean a show has earned any nominations, although they could be added during the deliberation process before the spring event. One of the goals of the Acclaim awards has been to bring more attention to local theater productions while they are being performed. It’s hoped this new from of recommendation will add awareness that theaters can use in their marketing.

So far, two productions of the 2010-11 season have been “Acclaim Recommended” — Collected Stories at Ensemble Theatre (unfortunately the concept was not finalized before the show closed) and The Understudy at the Playhouse, which continues through this weekend.

The Acclaim program assists theaters by providing grants enabling them to hire Equity actors. Fundraising events also make possible support for high school theater programs and “Rising Stars,” collegiate talents who are at the front end of their careers. Be on the lookout for events that generate some cash for these causes. There’s one on Sunday at Joseph-Beth Booksellers in Norwood at 4 p.m., bringing together the artistic directors of many of Cincinnati’s outstanding theaters for a conversation about what the year has in store. Show up, learn more and help spread some acclaim.

CONTACT RICK PENDER: rpender@citybeat.com



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