Saturday, April 23, 2011

The Norton anthology (abridged)

The Norton Award nominations for 2011 were announced a few weeks ago, and of course as always the distinction between the Norton Awards and the IRNEs (or the "KRNEs," as I now call them, for "Kati's Reviewers of New England") was immediately clear, as you can see in the graphic at left: the Nortons only hand out about a quarter of the nominations that the KRNEs do (and recognize fewer than half as many local companies).  Many major local theatres - usually those it's a little harder to get to, like Reagle, the Merrimack, and the North Shore - didn't get any recognition at all, in fact.

There are various reasons why the Nortons should ignore so much local theatre.  The first, I'd guess, is that the folks in the "Boston Theater Critics Association" - which hands out the Nortons - just don't seem to see, or at least write about, that much theatre, period.  Two of the Association's twelve members aren't really "critics" at all, I'd argue, they're kind of critics emeritii or something (I'm not sure I've seen Caldwell Titcomb or Louise Kennedy's byline in months).  And Jared Bowen, of WGBH, is a telegenic "arts personality" rather than a reviewer.  His sidekick, Terry Byrne, may be less telegenic, but at least she does hang on tenaciously to the second string that still dangles from the Globe - she seems to log about a review a week, though she usually covers children's shows and the circus.  Joyce Kulhawik is another telegenic "personality," although one sans portfolio (I think she's got a gig doing a talent show on late night TV); at any rate, she only covers two or three shows a month on her blog (almost all of which show up as nominees, though - theatre companies take note; if Joyce actually catches your show, your chance of a Norton nom has just shot up considerably!).  I think Ed Siegel writes a column about once a month on WBUR.  And does Robert Nesti post even that often over at the Edge?  I don't think so.

So "the Boston Critics Association" is really more like "the Boston Critics Clique;" you get to hang around and vote as long as you stay friends with that 70's crowd from the Phoenix, Herald and Globe.  Still, about half the association are regularly (or semi-regularly) functioning reviewers - Don Aucoin files at least one book report a week over at the Globe, Carolyn Clay's still grinding out those puns at the Phoenix,  Sandy MacDonald keeps filing copy at TheatreMania, Jenna Scherer's caustic canards can now be read at TimeOut Boston, and Iris Fanger's byline pops up in the smaller papers pretty regularly.  So almost half the "critics" are, indeed, critics.  I think.  To be honest, I could have the facts wrong about a few of them, I really don't read any of these people, they're all so damn boring.

But even if the functioning critics saw more of the local scene (or were assigned to see it), would they offer more nominations?  I don't think so. For the second reason why the Nortoneers are so paltry in their awards is that their audience target, basically, is people who don't go to the theatre.  Even of the 66 nominations they've squeezed out, for instance, about 22 are going to productions or people from New York (to be fair, the KRNE musical awards go to a lot of out-of-town people, too), via heavily-advertised and promoted productions and tours - the kind of thing the suburbs might come into town for.  And of course there's always an out-of-town star called upon to actually draw a crowd - to a Boston awards show that's about Boston only two-thirds of the time, and that isn't going to take up all that much of your time, period.  But then I suppose the Nortons have a case of New York-itis much like the rest of the Hub; when it comes to culture, Boston is a town of Yankees fans.

Oh, well. 'Twas ever thus.  Months ago, local theatre people had begun to say openly that they hoped the Nortons would die out soon; but with the addition of Bowen and Scherer to the roster, and a new website, the Boston Theater Critics Association seems to have risen from the grave.  And so the zombie march of "critics" continues.

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