by SOPHIE KERMAN
Like so many of you, last Monday evening I went to celebrate the Twin Cities theater community by getting dressed up and applauding the achievements of so many talented theater professionals at the Ivey Awards. This year, as the Iveys’ 10th anniversary, has given critics ample food for thought; for instance, Tad Simons has a great article about how wonderful and weird this round of awards was.
An as independent blogger, they Iveys are a sort of yardstick for me, too. It’s always fun to see how many of the winning shows I’ve seen and whether I would agree with the awards given out. (You can see a full list of the awards here.) Over the past couple of years, Aisle Say Twin Cities has done fairly well, with our little team of critics having reviewed about half of the winners in both 2012 and 2013. But this year? None of them. Ivey-winning actress Sally Wingert gave me four chances to see her this year, and I saw none.
I have never yet seen an Ivey go to someone undeserving, but there are plenty of deserving plays that don’t get Iveys, and those were some of the shows we saw. The interpretation and set design of The Lower Depths, Aditi Kapil’s stand-up comedy in Brahman/i and Dean Holt’s performance in The Scarecrow and His Servant were just a few of this year’s stand-outs.
So how are the Iveys selected? Other than the Emerging Artist and Lifetime Achievement Awards, they are chosen by volunteer evaluators who fill out online ranking forms. Having been to an evaluator training (though I did not end up deciding to be an evaluator myself), I can tell you that the people picking the awards are big theater fans from a wide range of professions and backgrounds. Most of them, at least in my session, were not theater professionals themselves, though a few of them were. This means that a lot of time in the training is devoted to tips on how to spot great lighting, sound, direction, etc.
In other words, many evaluators love good theater and instinctively know what it is, but they might miss some of the subtle things that theater professionals are trained to look for. And because scores are aggregated across several reviewers, there is no such thing as a controversial Ivey Award. Challenging, experimental, or boundary-pushing theater just won’t get the score.
Everyone loves a crowd-pleaser, and a well-produced, flawlessly-executed show absolutely deserves an award. But I also wouldn’t mind being able to get into a good heated debate about whether an Ivey winner deserved their award – and I think this kind of debate is exactly what makes a healthy theater community grow.
This brings me to my second point: this is my last article for Aisle Say Twin Cities, which I am leaving in the capable hands of Liz Byron. I will be moving over to write twice-monthly reviews for Minnesota Playlist, just in time for their new site redesign in October. I’m looking forward to the chance to connect with even more theater fans and professionals, and particularly to think about what it means to push the theater community forward and recognize all of the new, exciting, and eye-opening theater we do here.
My time at Aisle Say started in January of 2011 with my friend and (at the time) fellow grad student Anna Rosensweig. Since then, our little engine that could has gained a regular readership and earned its place among local arts criticism – and I am so grateful to all of the readers who have supported our work. I look forward to all the places it will go as Liz leads it into its new era, and thank you all for reading, thinking, and caring about local theater!