First, no matter how much one may try to suggest that no one takes such awards with any real degree of seriousness, I know that’s not true from talking with students after the fact. I don’t think winning, or not winning one of those student awards probably had any real impact on anyone’s career, but I do know there were hurt feelings on occasion.
Of course, the stakes seem to be even higher in the commercial world of theatre, motion pictures, recording, etc., but I would contend that the basic premise of trying to decide who is “best” in any category at any given time is, essentially, meaningless and stupid. It can, I suppose, provide an opportunity for one to promote his/her career based on “winning” the award. It can also be demonstrated, however, that many “winners” have lost work because it was assumed that they would demand more financially than others, based on their being “award winners.”
I’m quite fond of a section of an article from Time magazine from a good many years ago when they interviewed Paul Newman (whom I accept as having been a more than competent actor) about such things:
Time: Paul, you usually don't go to the Oscars even when you're nominated. Why? [Newman makes a face like he's just taken a swig of lemon juice.]
NEWMAN: I don't understand why competition has to exist between actors. Some guy starts with a marvelous character, and the script is all there. All he has to do is show up. Another guy digs it out by the goddamn roots with a terrible director and turns in this incredible performance. And someone says one is better than the other. That's what's nice about car racing. It's right to a thousandth of a second. Your bumper is here. That guy's bumper is there. You win.
I suspect that Neuman didn’t go far enough, however. Most performing arts creations at any level are, in fact the product of a team (as is auto racing), and, while we might like to think we can pick out individual contributions, I would maintain that it’s a lot harder than most people think. The fit of a costume, the color of set, the angle of a light, the construction of a prop can all have an effect on a production for good, or for ill, be it on a stage or in a movie. Hence, there is an impact on the production made by EACH of the individual contributions to the project. How can we pretend that we are actually making an even reasonably fair judgement based exclusively on the work of an individual?
In addition, I think the whole idea is based on a false premise: that premise being that some work is just, plain “better” than some other work and that we can judge this on some sort of objective scale. I think that is a pile of X@&%, at least within a given level. It is probably fair to say that a theatrical production, or musical performance at a small college (for example) really isn’t comparable to a major, professional one, but when you are dealing with roughly comparable talent (in all positions), essentially similar budgets, etc., then it MIGHT be reasonable to make comparisons. In other words, when you have work being done which it is, overall, comparable, then comparison MIGHT be reasonable. However, if we are discussing ARTS, I think that the judgement mostly comes down to how the individual responds to a given work at a given moment, which is too variable to have any real, objective value.
Then, in recent years, especially in the Motions Picture Awards (the Oscars), we have seen a variety of stupid pressures to correct all of the wrongs of various sorts of past discrimination by insisting that awards (at least nominations) should go to people because they are people of color, or women, or gay, or whatever group we are worried about at that particular moment. The idea that some people seem to have that past injustices are somehow going to be rectified by making awards selections (or nominations) based on a political desire to prove that we (the industry) are somehow “better” than we used to be and we are now “good” people is ridiculous! No member of a previously ignored category can be proud of an award given to him/her in order to “make things right.” That’s at least as big an insult as having your work ignored in the first place.
Besides, if we have to use the awards to prove that we have gotten beyond those prejudices and inequities, doesn’t it amount to admitting that the selections aren’t really based on actual merit? In reality, the “equality” which everyone SAYS they want can only be achieved when such “categories” of contestants disappear and all we are attempting to do is arrive at a decision based solely on the quality of the work, not a desire to “be fair.”
Even if we someday arrive at a state of truly unbiased choices, I don’t think it’s possible to actually decide artistic questions based on merit, so I will continue to think that these awards are dumb. Or, is there some way to PROVE that Beethoven’s works are greater that Mozart’s? Or, Leonardo’s are inferior to Picasso’s? Or, Shakespeare’s are greater than Tennessee Williams’? Each of us is entitled to our preferences, as we are entitled to change those preferences over time. But, art has something to do with individual, personal taste, mood, experience, etc. There are many art objects (performing and visual) which I have admired over the years and I know that my reactions as to what “moves” me at one moment may not be what accomplishes that same effect at some other time. I have never forgotten walking around a corner at the Museum of Modern Art in New York and encountering Picasso’s Guernica (which was then displayed there) on a visit to NYC with the Indiana Theatre Company in the mid- 1960’s. That was an experience I doubt I ever will forget. I can’t really describe it, but my does my experience make that painting “better” than, say, the Sistine Chapel ceiling or A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte? I don’t think so. I don’t think art is about better.
I do think it’s about what has an effect/affect on me as a person. It is a personal experience. And, therefore, any judgements I make about are personal in nature. But my experience doesn’t have any real impact on yours. It doesn’t prove anything about how you should respond to the same work, let alone provide any sort of truly objective evaluation.
To move on to a related, but quite different, idea, I was very much amused at the recent (mostly social media) hullabaloo about how Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper MUST really be in love based on their performance of “Shallow” at the Academy Awards show recently. Talk about a bunch of malarkey! I must confess that I didn’t watch the “Oscars,” but I sure heard about them. The "social media" uproar was all over the news.
Now, I’ve done enough performing, both acting and singing, (Yes, I have done some of both.) to know that there is very little difference between the two, if one is going to have much of an impact on an audience. (Just in passing, a lot of teaching is, in fact, a performance, as well, but that’s a story for another time.) And I’ve seen enough of what I would consider to be high quality performances by performers (both professional and amateur) that I believe my opinion has more validity than my cat’s, for example. I strongly believe that performing a song, perhaps especially a “love” song, requires that the performer(s) take on the attitudes and behavior of the character(s) in the song, itself. I think we call that sort of performance “acting!” Yes, I am suggesting that many songs are a lot like short plays.
Now if two experienced performers (one nominated for an Oscar as a leading actor three times in recent years and the other once) can’t make you (the audience) believe that they are in love while singing a love song crucial to the story of the performances for which they were nominated, I doubt they should have been nominated in the first place. I don’t KNOW what the facts may be (and I really don’t care), but both were nominated for “best actor” awards for the roles which included them performing this song, so it seems reasonable that in performing the song together, they should understand (and use their abilities) to create the illusion that they were in “love,” whether they were or not.
Many years ago, I saw a classroom-oriented movie which stated that “Acting is the art of making an audience believe that real things are happening to real people.” I didn’t like that idea at the time (I was too much under the influence of some “method” acting teachers, perhaps), but, as I’ve grown older, I’ve come to accept it as a truism. It IS a statement worth examining in detail.
First, it suggests that acting is an art, meaning that it is “artificial,” it is “made up,” it is created, it doesn’t just happen, and it’s not “real.” Furthermore, it is specifically created for an audience, not just for “the heck of it.” It’s created for the purpose of getting an audience to believe that something is happening which, in fact, is not. Robin Williams once quoted one of his acting teachers as having said, “Method acting can be like urinating in brown corduroy pants; you feel wonderful, but we see nothing.” After all, the characters portrayed by actors (or singers), were conceived by the playwright, or song writer, or author to serve the needs of a story, or situation. Those characters are NOT real, even if they are based on real people. Which means that whatever is happening to them is not “real” either.
Sir Laurence, Lord Olivier, himself, a rather well-respected actor, put it quite succinctly, “Acting is illusion, as much illusion as magic is, and not so much a matter of being real.” The point, I think, is that the audience should believe it to be real, not that the actor needs to (or, necessarily, should).
[Side Note: I'm really not against using any of the variations of "The Method," if they are of assistance to you as a performer. Just remember that the point of your work should be to have an effect on us in the audience, who really don't care what you are actually feeling.]
I also wish the “awards show” business would just go away because these programs are, for the most part, just not very entertaining, although they try desperately to be so. I don’t even bother to watch them very much because I usually haven’t seen at least most of the nominees. In many cases they simply didn’t interest me very much. Like most people, I’m not willing to spend a lot of time and/or money to see everything, so I choose what to see from what’s available to me. In many cases, I find that I’m not attracted to the stories portrayed enough to see many of the shows which I could see. While I don’t doubt that some very good work is being done, I find myself more attracted to the theatre I can see live at prices I can afford (and only those productions which capture my interest) and the occasional movie which captures my attention (and, usually, Bonnie’s) enough to make the trip to a movie theatre.
I’ve spent my life working in the theatre, I enjoy live theatre and some movies (either in the theatre or on TV/DVD), but I also have a life to live and somewhat limited resources. I have other ways of spending my time than to watch an awards “show” consisting mostly of people pretending to be humble and thanking a bunch of people I have never heard of and don’t care about (since I don’t read the tabloids and stay away from “social media”). I LIKE good work, but I have not found that the “awards shows,” for the most part, contribute to my pleasure in it. Nor, does “winning,” or even being nominated, guarantee that I will be more impressed with the work I do see. I’ve seen a lot of what I would consider “good” work that was never nominated for anything. Some of the best acting I’ve ever seen was in a high school acting class which I was fortunate enough to be in about 1960!
I will, probably, at least turn on the Tony awards show, but I doubt that I’ll watch it all that closely. Mostly, I’ll just watch to see the excerpts of the nominated shows. I can (and do) always hope that some of them will be interesting and that I might get a chance to see them on tour. Oh, well.
If someone wants to argue with me about this, I’d enjoy having a discussion. Who knows, you might convince me that I’m wrong. I am human, I can be convinced by reason, logic, and facts. Go ahead, have at me….