As a theatre artist who began as an actress, you’d think getting rejected would role off my back the way ice cream drips down my daughter’s arm…effortlessly and sweetly to be licked up and blithely swallowed before going back for more.
I still hurts. I don’t cry. I don’t stomp around. I don’t think the world looks dark and endlessly dreary, but it still hurts. I get a little red in the face, the heat prickles my skin from the inside and my stomach does a sad little flip.
I got turned down for the New Hampshire Individual Artists Fellowship. It’s my second year running. I was really proud of my personal statement this year, but my understanding is that the panelists use your primary visual presentation first, then turn to secondary things like your personal statement only if they feel it’s needed. Who knows if they read mine.
But, out of sincere curiosity, I did go look at this year’s award winners. They all look like fine artists and very deserving of the credit. What bothered me, however, is that none of them were theatre artists. I clicked through to see the winners for the past 9 years: not a single theatre artist.
The NH State Council for the Arts requires that theatre artists send a video of their work to be used for primary judging purposes. Let’s face it: videos of theatre performances suck. Plain and simple. One cannot get passed how the lighting is misrepresented, sound is wavery, footsteps are pounding, faces are fuzzy, and emotional/social expressions are over-blown and just plain weird looking. Even professionally produced pieces such as those done by the BBC stink: the lights are flat, the acting is too pronounced (because it’s not for film) and the sound is off (again, because it’s not meant for film). I can only hope that the panelists (including three representing performing arts: musical theatre, opera, and jazz/folk music) remember this when making their assessments. It’s far too easy to let things like that get in the way of truly assessing what matters in directing projects and, considering the number of theatrical award winners, I doubt that they really truly ignore them.
I suggest that those who use certain visual criteria for judging the creations of theatrical artists (including NH) take a long hard look at their requirements. As a working theatre artist for over a decade, it is clear that still photos of plays more strongly represent the visual story-telling of a play and should be considered as vital to the judging of quality of craftsmanship, as should the director’s statement of purpose in a project and the final design concepts. Theatre is a three-dimensional ever-present ever-dynamic art and cannot be captured by a video camera, but a closeness can be captured by multiple medias together.
I’m not saying this because I was passed over; I’m saying this because there has not been a single award given to a theatre artist in at least 9 years. And rather than place the blame on unknown biases or faulty videos, it would be in the best interest of the community at large (in a state that is decidely lacking in quality professional theatrical opportunities) to reevaluate the evalutation process itself.