Tuesday, September 13, 2011

(This is not a Gregory Award. It is a very big trophy though.)

Back in April, something brought the Gregory Awards to my attention—I think it was the annual call for nominations.

I’ve attended the awards a couple of times in the past, but this year, my thoughts went something like this: “why the hell should I care? This is precisely the sort of thing that I’m never nominated for, and I’m tired of toiling away like an unappreciated ant in the world of Seattle theatre while being asked yet again to celebrate my more illustrious peers. Besides, awards like this mean absolutely nothing.”

Then last month I learned I was nominated in the 2010-2011 Playwrights Category.

“On the other hand,” I said to myself, “the Gregory Awards are an important way for Seattle’s theatre artists to recognize excellence in their ranks. It’s good to have events like this when we can come together as a community and celebrate our achievements.”

“And you know? It’s an honor to just be nominated.”

Okay, I’m being facetious. Really though, it IS an honor to be nominated. I can’t really speak to the work of Scotto Moore or Kelleen Conway Blanchard (the People’s Choice and Member’s Voice Nominees, respectively); to my regret I haven’t seen any of Scotto’s work and not enough of Kelleen’s to form an opinion. But the three other playwrights who were initially nominated with me, Elizabeth Kenny, Neil Ferron and Yussef El Guindi are all real talents.

I was fortunate to check out Kenny’s Sick on its closing weekend, and was delighted by its innovative narrative structure, where her autobiographical story of medication-induced mental illness was repeatedly yanked back to a linear form by her collaborator Tina Kunz. It perfectly mirrored the infinite parsing of a mind struggling in the shifting realms of schizophrenia. Neil was a student of mine, believe it or not, a couple years back in my 10 Minute Play Class at Freehold. His work wasn’t that of a student. Instead it was an undeniably mature voice that was already grappling with sophisticated technical issues of form and voice, and I looked forward to every exercise he turned in.

And then there’s Yussef El Guindi. We’ve worked together on several projects over the years, and were both members of a long-running playreading group. In the last decade it has been a sincere pleasure to see a man whose work I have respected and admired for such a long time being given the attention he deserves. He also happens to be one of the nicest people I’ve ever met, even though his self-deprecation often reaches comic proportions. (At the opening night of Pilgrims Musa and Sheri in the New World, he told me at intermission that he thought that the show was off and the audience seemed distant and not very involved. After the show received a rapturous standing ovation, I told him that these were precisely the words I would have used to describe the audience.)

Awards, like critical reviews and productions, are arbitrary. We all know this. And individually, by themselves, they really don’t matter. But in my case, I’m sincerely grateful for being included this year, because as a theatre artist I’ve often felt outside of the main theatre community, and this is a reminder that I’m not. I couldn’t ask for better company in this year’s Gregory Awards—and that’s not even mentioning all my friends nominated in other categories, like Charles Leggett (Best Actor) and Billie Wildrick (Best Actress). It’ll be a real pleasure to put on a tie on October 17th and head down to ACT to share in the pride of working with great artists in a great theatre town.

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