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The Envelope, Please?

By Rick Pender · May 11th, 2011 · Curtain Call

Several times over the past year I’ve written in Curtain Call about awards recognizing theater performers and productions in Cincinnati. A year ago I wrote a column questioning whether we needed two competing programs — the Cincinnati Entertainment Awards for theater (originated by CityBeat in 1997) and The Acclaims, supported by The Cincinnati Enquirer since their creation in 2006. Last August I reported that an understanding had been reached to fold the theater CEAs into the Acclaims. (CityBeat readers know that CEAs for music continue to be handed out every November.)

Since last fall I have personally been engaged with panels of local theater experts who attend shows and then jointly evaluate what they’ve seen in order to nominate performances and productions for awards at season’s end. I have also served on The Acclaims executive committee with a handful of others, including Jackie Demaline of the Enquirer, who have set an administrative course for the program.

The date for the annual Acclaims ceremony is approaching, but our well-intended plans have evolved. In previous years, Acclaims panelists designated award winners during the season. Under the new system, nominations were to be made with the intention of choosing and announcing winners in May. Through no fault of anyone in particular (in fact, largely because the programs came together just as the 2010-2011 season began, not allowing enough time for thorough deliberation), the process and standards for making nominations were not clearly delineated for panelists.

Hence, there has been unevenness and some inconsistencies in the panels’ decisions, most particularly resulting in fewer nominations than in past years than had been assembled by the CEAs or The Acclaims.

While a set of further nominations was identified retroactively, it was decided that it would be best not to try to sort out winners. For this year’s Acclaims event, nominees will be recognized without naming the “best” in any of a variety of categories.

In a Curtain Call column about two months ago, I outlined a plan to add a CEA-like element of public voting to The Acclaims, but due to these other changes, it was decided to table this effort. Several past and meaningful components of The Acclaims have been sustained, including recognition of outstanding theater educators as well as “Rising Stars,” young performers whose careers are just beginning.

More changes are on the way for the 2011-2012 season. Recently, the League of Cincinnati Theatres, a nonprofit association of local companies and performers, agreed to become more fully engaged with the Acclaim Awards program, which has partnered with the League to enable its nonprofit status. With LCT’s increased role, media involvement by the Enquirer and CityBeat will be reduced.

I can’t say with certainty what this means for the future — among other changes, it’s possible that a new name will be devised for the awards program — but I do know that a group of people who truly care about local theater remains hard at work to refine a singular, coherent way to recognize theater excellence for our city. I will continue to report on this process as it unfolds.

Even though no formal awards will be handed out this season — neither CEAs nor Acclaims — the bottom line is that there’s a lot of good theater to be seen on local stages. I hope you’ve been able to catch some of it.

CONTACT RICK PENDER: rpender@citybeat.com



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