Remedying the Sound of One Hand Clapping

The Acclaim Awards merged both the Cincinnati Enquirer's program of the same name and CityBeat's Cincinnati Entertainment Awards. The merger has had a rough life and after some turmoil changes are in the works.

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For the past 14 years, I’ve overseen nominations and public voting for the Cincinnati Entertainment Awards (CEAs) for theater. If you pay attention to such matters, you might recall that last August I announced with high hopes that the CEAs, a program created by CityBeat in 1997, would combine forces with the Acclaim Awards, a theater recognition program established in 2006 by The Cincinnati Enquirer. I envisioned a program that would amplify the value of both efforts, bringing a higher level of awareness of our fine local theater scene and reinforcing an awards program that would have a promising future. I wish I could say that’s what happened.

The Acclaims used a process of ongoing recognition during the theater season, initially using a panel of theater experts who identified excellent work to make awards on a rolling basis as shows were produced. For 2010-2011, it was decided to revise that process to one in which shows were nominated by panelists during the season, with winners selected from those nominees and announced in a program in May.

Unfortunately, things got off to a bumpy start with this change, and by mid-season only a few nominations had been made, in part because clearly defined categories and procedures had not been established.

Processes improved early in 2011, but the erratic selection process led the organizers (including me — the merger made me a member of the Acclaims executive committee) to decide that naming winners didn’t make sense. When the awards event happened on May 23 at the Carnegie in Covington, nominees received certificates, but no broadly based “best of” designations were made. (An “Enquirer Theater Excellence Award” was bestowed on the Cincinnati Playhouse’s excellent Behind the Eye.) Additionally, a plan to add some publicly voted awards to the process, recalling a significant element of the CEAs, was scrapped when some theater programs raised concerns.

During the spring, with mounting frustration about the program, a conversation began between the Acclaims’ executive committee and the League of Cincinnati Theatres (LCT), which had enabled the Acclaims to operate as a nonprofit organization and raise funds for several programs benefiting local theaters. Eventually it was decided that the awards program would became a joint venture with LCT, and the relationship with the Enquirer would end.

A plan is in the works to launch a new program with this fall’s theater season. Details are still being worked out, including what they will be called. The folks trying to organize this effort are committed to the same goals that inspired the CEAs and the Acclaims — recognizing outstanding local theater. Several elements of the programs, including the recognition of educators and rising young talent, are expected to be retained.

To fill the vacuum created by the end of the collapse of the Acclaims program — the proverbial sound of one hand clapping — I’ll provide an overview of the 2010-2011 theater season in the July 13 issue of CityBeat citing the shows I enjoyed at each of Cincinnati’s theaters. Every one of our local companies offered productions worth seeing, and I hope you enjoy my survey. Even more, I hope my survey feature inspires you to check out what these theaters offer in 2011-2012. I can assure you that there will be more productions to thrill you — and you can be sure I’ll be writing about them in CityBeat.

CONTACT RICK PENDER: [email protected]

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