The TATE’s. What can be said about them that hasn’t already been mumbled under the breath by one of the ‘losers’? I don’t know, but we’re going to find out. Welcome to SL918’s special TATE Awards Edition! First, the quick list of shows nominated by their respective theatres:
'All New People'- Theatre Pops
'Bad Jews'- Heller Theatre Company
'Waiting for Godot'- American Theatre Company
'Great Gatsby'- Theatre Tulsa
'To Kill a Mockingbird'- The Playhouse Tulsa
'Cowboy'- Nightingale Theater
'Don't Dress for Dinner'- Theatre Tulsa
'Steel Magnolias'- The Playhouse Tulsa
'Why Tourture is Wrtong and The People Who Love Them'- Theatre Pops
'Mothers and Sons'- American Theatre Company
'I wish you actually liked me (and other familial impossibilities)- Heller Theatre Company
'Fuddy Meers'- Nightingale Theater and Odeum Theatre Company
'Catch Me if You Can'- Clark Youth Theatre
'Our Town'- Clark Youth Theatre
I missed Heller’s ‘Bad Jews’ and Theatre Tulsa’s ‘Dress for Dinner,’ so unfortunately there’s no way to consider those shows in what follows. I also worked on two shows, doing the lights for ‘Great Gatsby’ and directing ‘Why Torture is Wrong and the People Who Love Them.’ That said, all of the following is just my freaking opinion, ok?
To address the youth shows first, both of them come from Clark, my former home, so I don’t have to worry about being prejudiced one way or the other on that score. I don’t believe in reviewing kids’ performances, the whole Honesty-in-reviewing-community-theatre thing breaks down a little at that age. But from a different perspective, Clark’s ‘Our Town’ was truly an original approach to the play that was implemented just about seamlessly. The original spirit of the play was not discarded, but reinterpreted in such a way that made it contemporary, relevant, and fun. Though the concept was director Whitson Hanna’s, the young cast and crew were the ones who implemented it in performance. Their contribution was substantial and integral to the whole. This would be my pick, based on originality and the communal approach.
Onwards. No, wait. Before we get to my picks, let’s pull back for a minute and talk about this event from a meta-standpoint. No, wait. Let’s look at it from two, no, wait, three, no, an undermined number of specific standpoints, each with its own priorities.
From the standpoint of the GKFF, (purely my speculation here of course) the TATE awards are a way to get some much needed money to the local theatre arts scene. Reward excellence with cash. I base my speculation on GKFF’s history of supporting the community in myriad ways, including the arts. My reaction? Bravo, and a million thanks. Your help and inspiration (money can be very inspiring) have borne fruit in many ways, most directly in more and better shows. So, hopefully, from their point of view, the TATE’s have been and continue to be a success.
Now, here’s my own personal perspective (no speculation needed): “Free wine and I hope we win.” Simple, direct, no angst, never any disappointment. Because the wine’s always free and at least one show I’m associated with wins (more on that aspect in just a minute).
What about people from other theatres? More speculation here, but it’s based on solid observation, and it goes something like this: “We desperately need the money, but they’re probably going to (screw) overlook us again.” Did you notice the difference? It’s subtle, but if you look carefully you might detect how our viewpoints diverge. The question then becomes, why do they feel differently about the TATE’s than I do? Well, it might be that ‘free wine’ is just higher on my list of priorities. Or, maybe it means that I’m more enlightened than all those other folks. I’d like that. But that shit ain’t the truth. The truth is, the theatres that I was a part of, Heller and Clark, didn’t really need the money. We were city supported theatres! The next show was already paid for. We ourselves got paid every week whether anyone came to see the shows or not. We had dental! In short, we didn’t have as much riding on the results as everyone else, so no angst. And in addition, because we were a city supported theatre, with our own space, and where money wasn’t really that big a problem, our shows had a little bit of a natural advantage anyway, and so tended to win more often than not. (Now that that advantage has disappeared, the secret can be revealed.) Plus, we were the only youth theatre active enough to submit most years, so that pretty much guaranteed at least one win. And finally, between Erin Scarberry, Julie Tattershall, and myself, we had three kick-ass directors, which didn’t hurt either. So we were in the enviable position of not really ever being disappointed.
There’s at least one other perspective that I’ve noticed. I have no idea whose, but clearly this point of view exists out there somewhere, the evidence is unmistakable. And it goes like this: “The TATE awards are all about bringing a Hollywood celebrity into town and making a big to-do over him/her.”
OK. Breathe. Let’s go to our happy place. I’m, uh, I’m just going to pause for a moment of silence here. Remember to breathe. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
I’m sorry, that drug on a lot longer than I intended. I teared up a little in the middle, wanted to get myself under control before I went on. I’m alright now.
DAMN! DAMN! DAMN! Has no one noticed that this has become incredibly disrespectful of the entire Tulsa Theatre Community? Is anybody paying attention here? How have we been reduced to performing as a bit player in a show that’s all about how important someone from Hollywood is, and by simple extension how unimportant we are? Yeah, and what about the times we’ve simply been passive and unwilling enablers of whatever ego trip our celebrity chooses to engage in onstage, present only because there’s a slender chance there might be some money in it for us at the end of the night? Or that maybe our celebrity will throw some nickels so he can watch us scramble for them?
Just so we’re clear, it’s not like this every time. Peggy Helmerich, Tim Blake Nelson, and Mary Kaye Place, to name the examples that come immediately to mind, belong up there for reasons that have nothing to do with their celebrity. And you could feel the difference on those nights. There was a connection to the community, a connection to what it’s like to be an artist that’s not doing it for the money (cause that’s us, baby), a mutual respect that could be felt on both sides of the lights.
Besides the disrespect, you know the worst thing about this misplaced emphasis? Missed opportunity. Because what do we need as much as, maybe even more than money? Glad you asked, I’ll tell ya. More recognition from the public. A lot of the money problems we have could be alleviated if we had 50% more butts in the seats. And the TATE Awards are a perfect vehicle to help with that! The public loves award shows! Best actor, best comedy, best technical design. Publicity, Glamour, Suspense! Ok, I may be reaching a little, but at the moment any opportunity in that vein is completely wasted because the only people in the story are/ is, the celebrity. The actual Tulsa theatre artists don’t rate a footnote. Couldn’t a little money be spent promoting the event, acting as if it’s important enough to take note of, creating a little buzz about the fact that we’ve got this really active, talented, vital and varied theatre community? Maybe that could be accomplished by taking some of that money that was going to pay the out-of-towner to come slumming?
Well, I seem to be in the mood to rant lately.
Whatever, it’s my blog, I get to write what I want. And I got one more thing to say about the TATE’s before we move on to my picks. Thinking about the four different perspectives I’ve explored here, which one is the healthiest for the individual and the group, which one leads to the best evening’s experience. Well, clearly mine. “Free wine and I hope I win.” Right? No argument there. So how can we restructure the awards so that everyone can share this joyful if somewhat inebriated perspective?
First and most importantly, break the strict connection between money and the awards. Award money to deserving theatres based on their contribution to the Tulsa community and their need. Award statuettes to deserving shows and actors. And not on the same night. No more going to the awards gritting your teeth, as your lack of money is brought up in the most painful way possible—by watching another theatre take home the thousands of dollars you really need, and feel you deserve. No more false applause, while you whisper “Damn” under your breath. Competition, yes, of course, but no more weird conflicted feelings as you resent the fact that a close friend won. Take the money, or most of it, out of the equation. It kills the buzz.
(Secondarily, I personally would prefer a more ‘dress up’ event. And more food. And more awards. And more publicity. And take home bottles of wine.)
“How does that work?” you ask. I’ve got a couple of suggestions. A panel of judges sees a bunch of shows, basically like they do now. But instead of rating the shows, they rate the theatre groups. The criteria would have to be worked out, but could include things like filling a niche that isn’t filled by any other company, overall quality of productions, level of talent the company can attract, and ability of company to utilize any financial support to sustain itself long term. That would determine how that year’s financial support from the GKFF would be distributed.
A larger group, that could include the initial group but would also incorporate a much larger slice of the theatre community, would vote on the TATE awards, which would be expanded to include standout acting performances, technical design, and directorial approach, as well as best shows. There might or might not be a much smaller financial award to go with these.
Perhaps it’s presumptuous of me to suggest what other people should do with their money. I don’t mean to be. I’m just brainstorming. I'm acutely aware that it’s the George Kaiser Family Foundation that is actually putting its money where its mouth is, whereas all I have is my mouth, and it's the committee that’s doing the leg work, while I just lie here on my couch, tap tap tapping with my skinny little fingers, as“The Mummy” plays on Netflix. I don’t mean to seem ungrateful for all the time, energy and money that have been spent over the years, especially since Heller and Clark have been among the primary beneficiaries. But I think the experience has revealed that some things could be improved, to do more to help theatre in Tulsa, and these are my suggestions.
What about my picks? Ah, that was just a clever ruse to get you to read to the end of the article. Don’t spoil it for the next guy. And read the next post, because that's when I’ll actually tell you who I think should, and will win this year’s TATE’s. I promise.
Arts Alliance Tulsa
Green Room OK
Tulsa Little Theatre
Tulsa Weekly Roundup
Am. Theatre Co.
BA Community Playhouse
Clark Youth Theatre
G Rated Theatre
Midwestern Theater Co.
Muskogee Little Theatre
Owasso Comm. Theatre
Sand Springs Comm. Th.
Sapulpa Comm. Theatre
Tulsa Latino Theatre
Tulsa Project Theatre
Tulsa Rep. Musicals
Tulsa Spotlight Theatre