Jamie Konchak, Best Actress nominee
Most theatre-going Calgarians know of the Betty Mitchell Awards, or the “Bettys” for short, as the main body for recognizing achievements in Calgary’s professional theatre community.
Of course, there are also the CAT Awards — Calgary’s Community Theatre Awards — which celebrate the city’s non-professional theatre scene.
This year, though, there is a third entry being added to the list of local theatre awards — the Calgary Theatre Critics’ Awards, also known as the “Critters.”
Jessica Goldman, theatre reviewer for The Calgary Eyeopener on CBC and creator of the blog Applause Meter!, is one of four theatre critics who will nominate and select Critter winners. The other three critics are The Calgary Herald’s Bob Clark and Stephen Hunt and The Calgary Sun’s Louis B. Hobson.
Goldman, who moved here from Toronto two years ago, says she wanted to introduce a theatre critics’ award in Calgary as a way to further celebrate this city’s theatre scene.
“If we can bring another level of recognition to our theatre community, that’s good for everybody,” she says.
Following discussions with Clark, Hunt and Hobson this spring, the Critters were born, which, Goldmans says, are not meant to compete with the Bettys.
“Any city that has a vibrant theatre community has both a public award and a critics’ award,” she says, adding that reviewers in Toronto initiated the Toronto Theatre Critics’ Awards a couple of years ago to operate alongside the Dora Awards.
“New York has how many theatre awards? Five or six.... Okay, Calgary is not New York, but if we’re going to celebrate our theatre community, let’s do it right,” says Goldman.
In order to avoid “stepping on toes,” Goldman says she and her team announced the nominations for the Calgary Theatre Critics’ Awards after the Betty nominations were closed, and they plan to hand out their awards nearly a month before the Bettys.
The big difference between the two award organizations is that the Betty Mitchell Awards rely on a nominating committee of theatre professionals, as well as votes from the public. The Critters will be handed out based solely upon the four critics’ opinions.
“Each one of us has seen 90 to 95 per cent of the plays in the city this year, and we continue to do so year after year.... We wanted to express our feelings from that professional and critical point of view,” says Goldman.
There are also some differences when it comes to eligibility requirements for each award — for a production to be eligible for a Betty, it must have a minimum run of nine shows and employ a certain percentage of professional actors and crew members; for a Critter, however, there is no minimum run requirement, nor does it need to employ professional theatre practitioners.
“Our mandate is, if it plays in Calgary, no matter how long it plays, it’s game for us,” says Goldman, adding that the travelling shows offered by Broadway Across Canada and Dancap Productions are excluded from consideration.
Community theatre productions, however, are eligible for the Critters, though only one community theatre production is on this year’s nomination list — Storybook Theatre’s Avenue Q.
Shows that were part of last summer’s Calgary Fringe Festival were also eligible, and one Fringe show did make the nominee list: Take a Bite under the “Best New Play” category.
Speaking of categories, the Critters condense all design disciplines into one award — “Best Design” — and also offers awards for “Best Revival” and “Best Solo Performance” (a category Goldman says was particularly difficult to keep to a mere four nominees).
Goldman describes the Calgary Theatre Critics’ Awards as a “work in progress,” though she says she’s had a “fantastic response” thus far.
“It will take a while for the community to get to know what we are doing and to embrace it,” she says.
As such, this year’s Critter ceremony will be “very casual,” consisting of appetizers and a low-key ceremony during which the winners will receive framed certificates.
“We’ll give out the awards and hope everyone will continue drinking and having a good night,” says Goldman.