Yes, it's that time of year again - time to compile my list of nominees for this year's Independent Reviewers of New England Awards. (I've been a bad boy, actually, I'm at the very deadline, so I have to double down and get the list out today!)
Which means it's also time to confront the many vagaries of the critical process - which loom all the larger when the pool of candidates is as wide as it is with the IRNEs. For this is that moment when your list of three or four possible nominees has to be boiled down to one. That moment when you have to go with your gut, when much of your reasoning can be answered with other reasoning. When your sense of history and feel for the dynamics of the scene can only go so far, when you have to decide between apples and oranges, and you're wondering if your final call, between one type of quality and another, comes down to a subconscious coin-toss.
This of course doesn't mean that the process is random - I have my reasons for everyone who is on my nominee list, so whoever gets the nod deserves it, IMHO. And it certainly doesn't mean I don't agonize over the final decision (and does anyone agonize over a coin toss?). Indeed, rest assured that everyone on the IRNEs takes these decisions extremely seriously - and are often shocked, shocked to find that someone else's decision has gone "the other way."
It doesn't get any easier in the final round, either - that's for sure. Which is one reason we keep trying to be more and more inclusive. The great irony around the debate around my IRNE membership some years ago was that I was the one always pushing for more, not less, diversity in the nominations - particularly where our influence counts the most, in the fringe and small theatre scenes. I'll say up front that I feel our highest goal is to help talent rise into the profession - and I think we do accomplish that to a surprising degree. I really couldn't care less which Broadway in Boston tour wins Best Visiting Production; and if an actor or actress wins a Norton Award a year or two after we've nominated them, that's all well and good - but the real action is over, indeed it ended when the artist broke into their first Equity production in part because they got noticed by an IRNE reviewer. This process happens anyway, of course; local casting directors do keep a close eye on the scene; but I think it moves faster now because of us - and perhaps my greatest satisfaction comes from seeing a performer I first saw in some basement or fringe space step onto the stage of an Equity house.
So let's hope that happens again this year. In the meantime, I have to go find a quarter . . .