Friday, March 29, 2013

LADCC Awards

OK, first a little bit of background, since this blog very rarely talks about anything from my actual, y'know, life:  I am a lawyer.  I am also a theatre critic.

I became a theatre critic for the incredibly selfish reason that writing nothing but legal stuff was driving me up the damn wall, and I felt the need to write about something else, in a different style, before I went mad.  Also:  I really love theatre.

So, with the help of some friends, I got myself a gig as the L.A. Regional Theatre Critic for a website that is much better known in New York than in L.A., and I toiled away in relative obscurity until such time as I was invited to apply for membership in the L.A. Drama Critics Circle.

Honestly, at the time, I was fairly surprised that they voted me in.  I felt like they were an organization of "real" theatre critics who did this for a living -- many of them writing for print publications -- while I wrote the occasional review on the internet for fun.  But, bless their little hearts, they voted me in -- an act which, I felt, gave me some measure of legitimacy (and helped raise the profile of our website in L.A.)

Three things give me immense pleasure as a critic:  The first is when someone tells me they saw a show based on my recommedation, and loved it.  This makes my day.  I still get genuinely excited about shows that I love, and it fills me with happiness to know that I helped someone else experience a wonderful show.  The second thing -- which is rather more rare -- is when someone associated with a show tells me that they changed something about their show based on something I wrote in a review.  This can make my entire week -- even when it's something really small, like changing a word in a new play, or trying a completely different read on a line.  But the idea that my review has, in some way, made a show better, makes me feel like I'm a useful part of the process -- not just the process that sells tickets, but the process that makes good theatre -- and that is a really awesome feeling for a lawyer who just took up theatre criticism to stretch her writing muscles. 

The third thing I enjoy is giving out awards.  I've co-produced the LADCC Awards show a number of years.  It is ... and I don't think I'm telling tales out of school to say so ... a phenomenal pain in the ass.  (There are a variety of reasons for this, most of them having to do with us not actually being producers.  And having no budget.)  But I've co-produced the awards show because I think it is crazy important that we keep having an awards show.  It is our way of giving back to the theatrical community, and recognizing the really excellent work out there.  Since the awards come from the entire organization, they don't always (or, really, ever) perfectly reflect the individual opinions of each member of the Circle -- but the trade-off for that is strength in numbers.  When the Circle gives someone an award, it has more cachet than a single member listing that someone in a "Best of the Year" list.  It is the organization -- a bunch of different critics from a bunch of different outlets -- collectively expressing the opinion that a particular individual or theatre company, for lack of a better word, rocks.

And I love playing a part in that.  Which is why, even though I did not produce the Awards Show this year (thank you, Bob Verini, for taking that one on), I took on a bit more than my fair share of the work.  Because I wanted it to happen, and happen well, and continue happening for years to come.  

With all that said, then, this is my experience at this year's LADCC awards.  I leave the objective recounting of the event to our organization's website and those of some of my colleagues.  This is my personal damn blog (I'll be giving you those dogsledding pictures next), and I just want to document my night.

I am, however, documenting it with Official Photographs from the event, courtesy of our event photographer, Jayne Calucag.  Jayne -- like so many other people involved in our Awards Show -- volunteered her time, for which we are totally grateful. 

OK, so, here it is.  We begin with the silent auction I worked really, really hard to put together.  And had to move about four times because my secret plan to "trap" unsuspecting theatregoers into our "spend money" area violated all sorts of fire codes.

And here is all the lovely food I didn't get a chance to eat, because I was too nervous about presenting awards:

 I had a piece of shrimp, though.  And one of them baby carrots.

Our show was hosted by French Stewart.  

In his opening bit, he made a comment about how he has never won an LADCC Award, for the very good reason that he's never been nominated for an LADCC Award.  It takes a special kind of person to volunteer his time and talent to host a show for an organization which has egregiously overlooked him time and again.  And this year, French Stewart became the latest in a (surprisingly) long list of performers who have been willing to do it.  (We love you, Jason Graae!)  And, unless I miss my guess, Bob became a member of the very exclusive club of LADCC Awards producers, who sat there listening to their host get laughs out of this awkward situation, thinking, "Yeah, we deserved that."

Actually, there were a ton of performers who volunteered their time and talent.  Here, I note the folks from the Chance's production of West Side Story, who recreated "The Rumble" for us -- pre-show, I saw someone walk in with a tupperware marked "Switchblades," which totally cracked me up -- and I also note Ms. Cesili Williams, who earned herself a standing ovation mid-Awards-show (a first, as far as I know).

(Look at that!  We had lighting!  Like a real show and everything!)

OK, OK, where was I?  We left me, having consumed one (1) shrimp and one (1) baby carrot, getting ready to go on stage.  I was tasked with ... well, let's be honest here, I pretty much begged for it ... talking about 3 of the shows nominated for "Production" this year.  (Oh, and let me take care of one misconception right now.  It isn't "Best Production" or "Production of the Year" or whatever.  We give awards for "Theatrical Excellence" in several different categories; and we have multiple winners in many of the categories, because there's a lot of excellence out there.  Interestingly, though, we don't break stuff down into musical/play; big theatre/small theatre; or male/female performers.  If we did, and had a single winner in each category, we'd probably give out the same total number of plaques.  Instead, we just pile them all together and give multiple awards for excellence.  Deal with it.)  So, OK, I asked really nice and begged and pleaded and got the honor of talking about 3 of the shows we nominated for Production.

The first one was a play called The Gronholm Method, an indictment of corporate culture in the form of a "group" job interview, setting the candidates against each other in a series of psychological tests.  In my prepared remarks, I mentioned a particular line from the show which really summed up everything wrong with corporate America, and was gratified to hear someone in the audience react to it.

Look, I am not an actor.  My place in the theatre is firmly in the audience (apparently, with a notepad on my lap).  But when I'm standing there making a speech and I get an unexpected audience reaction, it's a teensy weensy taste of the actor/audience relationship from the other side of the footlights.  It's cool.  And, of course, the real magic of theatre comes with what the actor does with that unexpected reaction.  (Me?  I just grinned.)

The second play I got to talk about was Cyrano, an absolutely brilliant adaptation of Rostand's original, which reset the action in contemporary Los Angeles, and did away with Cyrano's big nose -- and instead had a Deaf Cyrano trying to woo a Hearing Roxy.  I loved it to bits, and, for our Awards show, spent a few months with a tutor brushing up my questionable ASL skills so that I could sign my remarks about the show, as well as speak them.  


And then I got to return to the safety of my podium, and talk about War Horse.  Pretty fun to talk about two really small shows and then one huge spectacle of a show all in the same speech.  (See that bit about awarding "Theatrical Excellence," above.)  

(Also, by the way, look! Slides!  Bob put together a massive slide show -- so that we had one slide for every nominee (and multiple slides for our special award winners).  Made the show much more visual, I thought.)

And by the time it was all over, Cyrano and War Horse both walked away with Production Awards.  (Yay!)  Here's the Cyrano people accepting their award.

I don't have a picture of the War Horse people accepting, but we also gave a Special Award to Center Theatre Group -- the folks who brought us War Horse -- for general awesomeness, and here is their Artistic Director, Michael Ritchie, picking it up.

(OK, it wasn't actually for "general awesomeness."  It was for an excellent season, because besides War Horse, they also had Follies, and Fela!, and American Idiot (which made me a Green Day fan), and that was just in one of their three theatres.  Damn fine year.  Damn fine.)

We gave two other Production awards.  One was for The Book of Mormon, and the other was for an itty bitty musical called Justin Love.  Justin Love was a really sweet Hollywood fairy tale where the young innocent falls in love with the Biggest Movie Star in America, and they happen to be gay.  It was an adorable show (still is ... and is being produced in San Diego soon) with the very simple message that everyone deserves their own big happy Hollywood Ending ... and the Justin Love folks sang their closing number at our Awards show for our closing number.

And, well, that's what I've been up to since I got back from Canada.  Besides doing Law and stuff.

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