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Awards aren’t everything, but it’s still nice to get one

By Ronald B. Hellman

Everyone likes to be noticed, to be recognized, to be appreciated, for whom they are and what they do. Usually a simple thank you is enough, an e-mail might suffice, a handwritten note or letter is even better, a gift is always nice and sometimes just a kind word is all it takes. But what really proves your worth is getting an award. Or does it?

You remember Dorothy's three buddies in “The Wizard of Oz.” In the end the Scarecrow gets a diploma to show that he has a brain, the Tin Woodsman gets a testimonial to prove that he has a heart, and the Lion gets a medal to demonstrate that he has courage. It looks like the Wizard knew what he was talking about after all.

In the world of show business, there are lots of awards. There are the Oscars, the Tonys, the Emmys, and the Golden Globes, just to name the best known ones. It seems that every field of entertainment has its share of awards. But when it comes to local theater, what do we have?

A number of years ago, an ex-reviewer for this paper, the inimitable Roy Fox, decided to bestow his own Harold awards. One of the Queens groups still promotes its recognition as the best, ever since it won a Harold. Long before that, there was a fleeting organization called the Queens Theater Network — perhaps its time will come again — that looked to promote and publicize local theater. For a couple of years it sponsored a One-Act Play competition with cash prizes to the winners.

Something new — four years and counting — is worth looking into. It's called the New York Innovative Theater Awards, an organization dedicated to celebrating Off Off Broadway productions. Last month they announced their 2008 nominees in 18 different categories, including 127 individual artists, 47 different productions and 40 theater companies. The awards will be given out at a splashy event on Sept. 22 at the Fashion Institute's Haft Auditorium in Chelsea.

Although the nominations are heavily dominated by downtown Manhattan groups — perhaps sour grapes on my part since The Outrageous Fortune Company's production of “Shining City” did not get a mention — the Astoria Performing Arts Center did get four nominations for its musical revival of “Triumph of Love” and the Pulitzer-prize winning “Proof.”

“This is the third year in a row that we have been recognized by the NYIT Awards,” said APAC Executive Director Taryn Drongowski. “For a Queens-based company to have our work stand out as being among the best in Off Off Broadway citywide is a real honor.”

So let me urge all you theater producers in Queens to submit your best productions for NYIT consideration. The rules and procedures can be found at www.nyitawards.com. Three independent judges will attend your performances, and each will have a vote adding up to 75 percent of the total; the other 25 percent comes from the audience, which is asked to vote online.

Okay, awards don't really prove your worth. Most of us know when something is good or not. Still, there's no denying that getting some special recognition is real nice, “the icing on the cake,” as one of my loyal actors, Dayle Vander Sande, says. And if it's from NYIT, they throw a great party.

Contact Ron Hellman at RBH24@Columbia.edu.

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