Saturday, Nov. 22, 2008
The topic on the minds of most of the South Florida theater community at the moment, that has heated flurries of e-mails zapping back and forth through cyberspace, is the proposed suspension and likely subsequent demise of the controversial Carbonell Awards.
Without consulting with or giving advance notice to the army of volunteer nominators and judges, the Carbonell board of directors announced earlier this week that it intends to suspend its operations in 2009, to halt sending out adjudicators and give no awards for next year’s shows.
That is surprising enough, but even more puzzling were the stated reasons: the price of gasoline, the untimely death of the awards’ executive director, Jack Zink, a rapid decline in the regional media pool and a failing economy that threatens donations to the organization and ticket sales to the annual awards ceremony.
Most of that list has the theater community scratching its collective heads. For starters, gas prices are tumbling and none of the nominators or judges can recall ever complaining about the transportation costs of participating in the program. (An aside: I went up to Vero Beach last night to see Riverside Theatre’s production of Souvenir, with the same top-notch cast, director and costume designer as at Palm Beach Dramaworks this summer. I filled my car with gas at $1.87 a gallon. It was one of the highlights of the evening.)
Yes, Jack Zink’s passing creates a major void in the Carbonell organization’s leadership, but the former Sun-Sentinel theater critic, who worked so tirelessly on the awards up until his passing, would surely be appalled by the possible demise of the program.
I am one of those members of the media pool who has declined, but Palm Beach ArtsPaper gives me a reviewing platform again and I had always intended to remain active as a Carbonell nominator or judge, as have others. It is another non-issue.
The crux of the matter seems to be the awards ceremony, which is expensive and a great deal of work to produce. So as many have suggested, do away with the ceremony, but not the awards. Don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater. One measure of a viable theater community is its awards program, and continuous operation is crucial to its credibility.
Many area theaters are unhappy with the awards selection process and the resulting nominees and winners in recent years. But no awards program is perfect and what awards anywhere in the country is without a measure of discontent and disagreement? It is the nature of the beast.
Of course, the Carbonells can stand to be improved, but that can be handled without slamming on the brakes.
This Sunday, the Theatre League of South Florida, which used to jointly administer the Carbonells, will hold a forum to allow its members to vent their anger and suggest solutions to the crisis. Similarly, an informal group of theater critics is meeting Tuesday to forge a plan for the Carbonells to keep going.
The problem is none of us knows what is really in the heads of the board members, what the real sticking points are and what it would take to get them to rescind their decision to put the Carbonells on hold — perhaps forever.