Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Carbonell Post

I missed the first announcement about the Carbonell Fiasco. I was working on the Two Playhouses story, and then realized I was late to The Poker Game. Game has had many iterations over the years; players have come and gone. The current version features me, Character Actor, Young Actor, Stage Manager, Musical Director (doesn't actually play), #1 Theatre Fan, and Drummer. The drummer is the Character Actor's neighbor, but he has played in pit bands, so he fits. And #1 Theatre Fan used to work in the Box Office. Some nights we also get Lighting Designer, Hipster Actor, Poker Snob, The Dirty Old Man, and the Australian Shark. (Her parents ran a casino Down Under, and she usually cleans our clocks.)

This is all actually irelevant to this story, but it gives me an excuse to slide in a "dogs playing poker" picture.

I'm late to the game, and as I buy in, I apologize to the table for my tardiness, explaining that I was working on a blog entry that had taken a bit of research.

"Oh," says #1 Theatre Fan, reaching for his crackberry to read the blog (I love this guy!), "so what do you think about this Carbonell thing?"

I'm not pleased. Not at all pleased.'ll be the first to admit the Carbonells are flawed. I've got seven drafts of posts about the flaws, about shows and theatres that have been cheated out of awards and even simple nominations.

So yes, the Carbonells need fixing. But canceling them outright? Very. Bad. Idea.

Folks, like virtually every business in America, theatre is in trouble. They were struggling even before the economy smacked into the ground like a turkey tossed from a circling helicopter. I believe that a large part of this is due to dwindling media coverage. Even before Hap left the post, and Jack Zink passed away, the newspapers in the area have been cutting back on their coverage of local theatre. If you page through this blog's archives, you'll find that although there are numerous plays every week, only one or two actually get reviewed in any given paper. Some plays might never be reviewed. And even if they are, newspapers no longer have a dedicated spot for them: you have to want to find it, because the incompetent hacks editing your newspapers are prone to stick them in any section of paper.

The entire purpose of this blog is to create another opportunity for theatre to be visible to the community.
The Carbonell Awards, whatever their flaws, also created an opportunity for the community to become more aware that there's a lot of theater in our neighborhood. In fact, the fact that there's theatre important enough to have an awards ceremony does a great deal to enhance the perception of its quality.

But that's true only if the Carbonell Awards actually happen.

A few years ago, for reasons that have never been adequately explained, the awards went from being tied to the Theatre Season (which makes perfect sense) to being tied to the calendar year (not so much sense, since the cut-off is during the period when the season is at its peak). And as a part of this largely-unnecessary change of cycle, the Carbonell went a year and a half between ceremonies.

Now we're looking at a minimum of a TWO YEAR gap.

And then there's the way it was handled; capriciously, in this observer's eyes. Not one of the Carbonell judges was notified ahead of time, not one of them was asked for their input or advice. All the Carbonell participants found out about at the same time the rest of us did, and that's a very poor way to treat those who have been carrying out the mission of seeing all the plays in South Florida.

This is especially tacky when one of the reasons given could only have come from the judges:
“This year saw our tremendously dedicated volunteer judging panel pay $4 a gallon for gas,” noted Leslie J. Feldman, publisher emeritus of Playbill Magazine and Carbonell Awards, Inc. board president.
Well, it got close, maybe. And now it's way down. And all the judges said they were willing to keep going. The seven judges I spoke with were all irritated that this was one of the reasons cited, because for the judging panel, this was not an issue.

Other reasons given:
  • Jack Zink died. Yes, he did. And if he hadn't, this would have killed him. This is a very poor excuse to kill something he worked so very hard on for the last few decades.
  • The Media Pool is dwindling. Yes, it is. But it hasn't evaporated completely. And there are over two dozen judges overall. So the Post and the Sun-Sentinel have failed the public: why compound their failing?
  • The failing economy is reducing donations and ticket sales. Well, nothing dries up ticket sales and donations faster than canceling the event. Why should people support something that's not happening? And if the Carbonell Comittee doesn't believe in its own awards, why should anyone else?
Are the actual awards that expensive? Well, the ceremony isn't, at least relatively speaking. The biggest expense is probable the one that everyone forgets about: the endowments.
You see, the Awards are not the purpose of the organization. The awards are the by-product of raising money for scholarships. Ticket sales and donations from the event are used to underwrite the endowments. If there's no event, what happens to the scholarships that it is designed to support?

Yes, there is no argument that Jack Zink's death was a great loss to the Carbonell Awards. But it need not be a total loss. There are hundreds of people involved, and it's simply beyond belief that between all of them, solutions can't be found. Start by talking with them, instead simply sending out a "press release of doom."

Christine Dolen isn't pleased with the decision. She and Jack were close friends, although they worked for competing newspapers.
I can't help thinking that, given the fact that Jack worked right up 'til his death on trying to make sure the Carbonells could continue, this isn't the choice he would have made.
She has a poll up, and so far 82% of respondents believe that the awards should NOT have been suspended. And the comments pour in! It inspired a follow-up blog:
Monday's abrupt announcement by the Carbonell Awards board of directors that it was suspending judging of productions that open in 2009 brought a firestorm of reaction, most of it negative.
Theatre Row picked up the poll, and the story. Conundrum Stages suggests that it may be time to bring back the Curtain Up Awards, which was the King Mango Strut to the Carbonell's Orange Bowl Parade. A Carbonell Judge has suggested that if the Comittee can't do it, let's create "the Jacks" and start something new.

The bottom line is that outside of the committee, those of us who make up the theatre scene have not seen any reason that should compell cancelling the awards for a year. So here's a message to the Carbonell Comittee: TALK TO US. We're all in this together. Don't give us this shuck and jive: sit us in a room, and lay it all out. When the pickings are slim, you don't throw away the cookpot, you make stone soup.

And we've all got a few of those.

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