Many cities have begun giving out their own equivalent of the Tonys, according to a recent article in the New York Times, and Denver is no exception. Our Henry Awards (click here for a list of nominees) are named for Henry Lowenstein, who for years staged plays at the old Bonfils Theater (later named the Lowenstein, and later still closed down despite passionate protests) that got people talking, brought in actors from all over the city, and were way ahead of their time.
So just what do the Henrys mean? How valid are our choices? How much do the awards help the artists who get them, or hurt those who feel unfairly slighted? Do they create a buzz in the theater community that spills over to the city in general, creating bigger and better informed audiences?
The process of selection has been refined and professionalized over the last few years, but as eight local critics assembled on Sunday to iron out inconsistencies in the ballots we’d already filled in, old issues remained -- issues faced by every awards committee around the country. Were certain roles leads or supporting? How do you define “outstanding ensemble”? What makes a performance excellent? Can you always distinguish the work of the actor from the work of the director? Although we’d all seen dozens and dozens of plays over the past year, none of us had seen every eligible production. That meant that some worthy contenders weren’t seriously considered; and theaters attended by the highest number of judges obviously stood the best chance of getting nominations.
The Denver Center Theatre Company, despite the fact that it has far greater resources than anyone else in town, gets judged right alongside much smaller theaters. The fact that they don’t scoop up the lion’s share of the awards every year is testimony to either the strength of the little guys, or the weakness of some of the DCTC’s productions. From my perspective, a lackluster and far-too-safe beginning of the year came close to being redeemed by the DCTC’s final offerings: Proof, Lydia and The Merry Wives of Windsor.
But that’s my opinion -- and my opinion isn’t the deciding factor for the Henrys, nor is the individual opinion of any of the other critics. What do you do when the voting process throws up a nomination you dislike, or when an actor, director,or playwright you champion is slighted? We critics are all egomaniancs -- all right, I won’t speak for the others, but I know I am. We’re used to uttering judgment uncontradicted from the lofty heights of our critic’s perch, and here we all were, signing off on slates of nominees arrived at through a group process. Did we laugh about this and tease each other? Yes, we did. Did we secretly grind our teeth? Once again, I’ll speak for myself. Yup.
But there’s integrity to the process. And though we didn’t discuss specific nominees or attempt to influence each other, there we all were, sitting together, passionately talking theater and hoping our efforts are helping make Denver’s theater scene stronger, more visible, and more vital.
The list of Henry nominees is attached; the winners will be announced at an awards ceremony July 7 at the Littleton Town Hall Arts Center. – Juliet Wittman