How Much Recognition Is Enough?

The Cincinnati Entertainment Awards (CEAs) were established by CityBeat in 1996, using theater critics from all the local media to determine nominees. The Acclaim Awards were created in 2006 and are largely supported by The Cincinnati Enquirer. Our theat

Greater Cincinnati has two theater awards programs. Our theater scene is excellent for a city this size, but it’s worth asking if competing awards enhance what we have or duplicate recognition.

The Cincinnati Entertainment Awards (CEAs) were established by CityBeat in 1997, using theater critics from all the local media to determine nominees. The Acclaim Awards were created in 2006 and are largely supported by The Cincinnati Enquirer.

The two programs take different approaches. The CEAs are modeled on the Tonys and similar programs in cities like Chicago, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. established categories (there were 20 in 2009) are populated with nominees assembled by a panel of critics. The public is invited to vote on 12 categories during a month-long period via CityBeat’s web site, while the critics select the results in an additional eight categories that are best judged by people who see a lot of theater.

Nominees and winners are recognized at an annual event in late August just before the new season begins.

The Acclaims are announced in The Enquirer throughout the theater season, often while productions are still onstage. Each show is viewed by several members of a large panel of regular theatergoers, educators and theater professionals. With oversight and management by The Enquirer’s Jackie Demaline, recognition of productions and performances is decided, announced and posted on a web site.

Categories are loosely defined (and sometimes created to fit a particular situation, event or performance), and there are no absolute winners. The Acclaims round up recognition with an annual event — this year it happens May 24 — when “major category” winners are announced. A new wrinkle this year will be “audience voting” as part of the “Best of the Season” recognition; attendees at the May 24 event will receive a ballot to vote for their favorite community theater and professional musical theater productions.

The Acclaims recognize more than specific performances and productions. They recognize outstanding teachers and “rising stars.” with various events and special performances, they also raise money to fund grants to small theaters that couldn’t otherwise afford to hire professional actors.

Since both the Acclaims and the CEAs are about recognizing excellence. I’ve wondered for a while if we need two programs. Would it be better to bring them together into one recognition event? What form should that take? Should there be broad public voting, voting by audience at the award event or should decisions be made by a group of informed insiders? Should various kinds of theater productions — shows by professional companies, alternative events, university performances and community theater productions that feature talented amateurs — be segregated or compared?

I think Greater Cincinnati theater would benefit from one solid, well-managed program. I don’t have all the answers as to what it should look like, but I’d like to hear your opinions on this subject.

Read more about this subject on CityBeat’s arts/entertainment blog, and your comments can be registered there or below here. I intend to write more about the concept of combined awards, and I’d like to share thoughts from theater fans and those engaged in performing and presenting shows.

In the meantime, check out the Acclaims in a few weeks and be on the lookout for the 2009-10 CEA nominations in late June after the completion of the Cincy Fringe Festival. Your opinions and your involvement matter.

CONTACT RICK PENDER: [email protected]

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