Once again, the Colorado Theatre Guild has announced the winners of the Henrys — Colorado’s equivalent of the Tony Awards — and once again the results announced last night are difficult to figure out. As before, there are a lot of wins for the Denver Center Theatre Company and not one for the Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company, which mounted some spectacular work this past season. Last year, Curious Theatre Company won seven awards, which frankly seemed a bit much for one (admittedly excellent) production; this year, it got not a single nod. Edge Theater received two well-deserved Henrys for Jerusalem’s set and sound design, but the judges missed some stellar acting in that play. And there was nothing for the Colorado Shakespeare Festival, an omission that occurs every year and makes me wonder if a lot of judges just plain dislike Shakespeare.
When the finalists were announced a few weeks ago, local actor Margie Lamb posted a critique as a guest column on John Moore’s Denver Center for the Performing Arts NewsCenter blog, making a number of cogent points and suggestions. At the center of her critique is the fact that while Denver once had an awards system controlled by critics, the Henrys utilize forty-some judges “made up of former and current writers and reviewers, retired educators, artistic directors and, making up the largest group by far: citizen judges whose primary qualification is that they are avid theater-goers.” Lamb adds, “I question how someone who simply has a history of merely sitting in an audience watching theater has earned the credibility to be a judge.”
(I was glad, reading this, that Margie hadn’t been privy to the many conversations between me and then-Denver Post critic Moore, that started something like this: “Are you fucking crazy? That show was shit.” Or: “Couldn’t you see how brilliant that actor was?” And — to be honest — often ended, “Okay, you do have a point.”)
Naturally, we critics think we’re right when we commit our thoughts to print and equally naturally, we don’t like it when someone or something we love gets stiffed at the Henrys. But I do actually think a person who loves theater and sees dozens of plays a year may become expert, even if he or she doesn’t quite know how a show is put together. And heaven knows, professional reviewers have peccadilloes and blind spots.
My problem is I’ve no idea how to fix the situation. For years the complaint was that the Colorado Theatre Guild, which administers the Henrys, ignored member theaters outside the metro area — where, obviously, most of the critics plied their trade. So general manager Gloria Shanstrom created the judge network that Margie Lamb refers to; six of these people must attend a performance in order for that performance to be Henry-eligible. That takes a lot of organizing, and the results — strictly numerical — can seem random. The reviewer who judges a performance at the Denver Center as the best of the year may not have seen an equally good performance in Fort Collins, and vice versa. And someone who lives in a small town may mark a local play a touch higher because she always runs into the director at the supermarket and knows all the problems that director has to deal with.
There’s a second core issue besides the fact that the awards are statewide. The Henrys are run by theater people, many of whom are also the potential recipients. Of course, these folks can’t influence the actual results, but they can decide how the overall program is shaped. There is no independent panel. At one point, the critics’ ballots were more heavily weighted than those of other judges, but a lot of Guild members objected to that, and besides, there are very few critics left. I’ve heard the suggestion that once each category has been pared down, a small, agreed-to-be-expert group should get together to ponder and refine the list, and some version of that could be a possibility.
But I’m not good at organizational thinking and I can’t fathom statistics.
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I know Gloria Shanstrom has heard, considered and tried to deal with each and every one of the criticisms I’ve mentioned, along with — I’m guessing — dozens of others. Whether I love the Henry results or not, I’m in awe of this woman’s passion, patience and dedication, and deeply respect the role the Guild plays. So I’m wishing all the winners mazel tov and sending deepest thanks to everyone who keeps our crazy, wonderful, passionate Colorado theater world spinning.
2014-2015 COLORADO THEATRE GUILD
ANNIE DWYER“Young Frankenstein” - Town Hall Arts CenterOutstanding Supporting Actress in a Musical
“Memphis” - Midtown Arts CenterOutstanding Supporting Actor in a Musical
DAVID THOMAS“Memphis” - Arvada CenterOutstanding Sound Design — Tier 1
“Jerusalem” - The Edge TheaterOutstanding Sound Design — Tier 2
“The Unsinkable Molly Brown” - DCPA Theatre CompanyOutstanding Lighting Design — Tier 1
“Mary Poppins” - BDT StageOutstanding Lighting Design — Tier 2
2014-2015 CTG HENRY AWARDSLISA COOKOutstanding Stage Management
“The Unsinkable Molly Brown” - DCPA Theatre CompanyOutstanding Costume Design - Tier 1
“Mary Poppins” - BDT StageOutstanding Costume Design - Tier 2
“She Loves Me” - Arvada CenterOutstanding Scenic Design - Tier 1
“Jerusalem” - The Edge TheaterOutstanding Scenic Design - Tier 2
“The Unsinkable Molly Brown” - DCPA Theatre CompanyOutstanding Choreography
'MIDDLE-ALE AGED PEOPLE SITTING IN BOXES”
Buntport Theater CompanyOutstanding Ensemble Performance
“Benediction” - DCPA Theatre CompanyOutstanding Supporting Actress in a Play
“Good TV” - A & A ProductionsOutstanding Supporting Actor in a Play
“The Unsinkable Molly Brown” - DCPA Theatre CompanyOutstanding Lead Actress in a Musical
“Fiddler on the Roof” - BDT StageOutstanding Lead Actor in a Musical
ROBERT SCHENKKAN & NEIL BERGDCPA Theatre CompanyOutstanding New Play
CREEDE REPERTORY THEATRE
Creede, ColoradoOutstanding Regional Theatre
“'Night, Mother” - Vintage Theatre ProductionsOutstanding Lead Actress in a Play
“Benediction” - DCPA Theatre CompanyOutstanding Lead Actor in a Play
2014-2015 CTG HENRY AWARDSJO BUNTON KEELLifetime Achievement in Theatre
“'Night, Mother” - Vintage Theatre ProductionsOutstanding Direction of a Play
MICHAEL RAFTER“The Unsinkable Molly Brown” - DCPA Theatre CompanyOutstanding Musical Direction
KATHLEEN MARSHALL“The Unsinkable Molly Brown” - DCPA Theatre CompanyOutstanding Direction of a Musical
Vintage Theatre ProductionsBillie McBride, DirectorOutstanding Production of a Play
“THE UNSINKABLE MOLLY BROWN”
DCPA Theatre CompanyKathleen Marshal, Director; Michael Rafter, Musical DirectorOutstanding Production of a Musical
DENVER CENTER THEATRE COMPANYOutstanding Season for a Theatre Company