Saturday, November 22, 2008

Commentary: South Florida’s Carbonell Awards in jeopardy

By Hap Erstein

The topic on the minds of most of the South Florida theater community at the moment, that has heated flurries of e-mails zapping back and forth through cyberspace, is the proposed suspension and likely subsequent demise of the controversial Carbonell Awards.

Without consulting with or giving advance notice to the army of volunteer nominators and judges, the Carbonell board of directors announced earlier this week that it intends to suspend its operations in 2009, to halt sending out adjudicators and give no awards for next year’s shows. That is surprising enough, but even more puzzling were the stated reasons: the price of gasoline, the untimely death of the awards’ executive director, Jack Zink, a rapid decline in the regional media pool and a failing economy that threatens donations to the organization and ticket sales to the annual awards ceremony.

Most of that list has the theater community scratching its collective heads. For starters, gas prices are tumbling and none of the nominators or judges can recall ever complaining about the transportation costs of participating in the
program. (An aside: I went up to Vero Beach last night to see Riverside Theatre’s production of Souvenir, with the same top-notch cast, director and costume designer as at Palm Beach Dramaworks this summer. I filled my car with gas at $1.87 a gallon. It was one of the highlights of the evening.)

Yes, Jack Zink’s passing creates a major void in the Carbonell organization’s leadership, but the former Sun-Sentinel theater critic, who worked so tirelessly on the awards up until his passing, would surely be appalled by the possible demise of the program.

I am one of those members of the media pool who has declined, but Palm Beach ArtsPaper gives me a reviewing platform again and I had always intended to remain active as a Carbonell nominator or judge, as have others. It is another non-issue.

The crux of the matter seems to be the awards ceremony, which is expensive and a great deal of work to produce. So as many have suggested, do away with the ceremony, but not the awards. Don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater. One measure of a viable theater community is its awards program, and continuous operation is
crucial to its credibility.

Many area theaters are unhappy with the awards selection process and the resulting nominees and winners in recent years. But no awards program is perfect and what awards anywhere in the country is without a measure of discontent and disagreement? It is the nature of the beast.

Of course, the Carbonells can stand to be improved, but that can be handled without slamming on the brakes.

This Sunday, the Theatre League of South Florida, which used to jointly administer the Carbonells, will hold a forum to allow its members to vent their anger and suggest solutions to the crisis. Similarly, an informal group of theater critics is meeting Tuesday to forge a plan for the Carbonells to keep going.

The problem is none of us knows what is really in the heads of the board members, what the real sticking points are and what it would take to get them to rescind their decision to put the Carbonells on hold — perhaps forever.


Anonymous said...

Perhaps, the Carbonell Awards' greatest flaw has finally been made plain: not enough experienced artists directly involved with the awards. For the board to be so fragile that it folds with the absence of one man is either testament to the irreplaceability of Jack Zinc or to a profound lack of true interest on the Board's part in their organization's work. It is difficult for me to imagine active or retired theatre professionals, if they were on the board, allowing the lights to be turned out on the Carbonells. The Academy Awards, the most "prestigious" award given an actor, is voted on by other performers. Allowing folks who have a true professional interest in the Carbonells to be involved in the awards from a leadership standpoint, could not hurt.


I echo Hap's statements and sentiment. During the past week, I have read countless suggestions from fellow Carbonell collegues and friends. I have even submitted my own. My question is, What do we do next? I urge the members of the board to schedule an emergency meeting with all the Carbonell nominators and Judges, for the purpose of possible solutions of preserving the 2009 and beyond seasons We must fix the flat before the inevitable blowout? Most businesses remain open while their access roads are under construction. We must, We have to do what ever is necessary to save the Carbonell Awards for now and forever. Carbonell is a tradition. A tradition that should not be put on Hiatus, for one year, one month, or even one week. PAUL LEVINE, PROUD TO BE A CARBONELL NOMINATOR!~