On September 1, 2008, I officially began my year as a judge for the Encore Association. Before that, in August, I attended a new judges’ orientation session. I am not allowed to talk or write about any of the shows that I see for Encore, but I am allowed to write about the judging procedure in general. So, since I am caught up with writing my reviews of non-Encore shows for the moment, today’s post is about what it’s like (so far) to be an Encore judge.
It is a lot different from being a reviewer.
First, some general background:
There are more than fifty theatre companies in the Indianapolis area. As of the 2008-2009 season, only eleven of them belong to Encore, but those eleven are some of the most well-established community theatres in central Indiana:
- The Belfrey (Noblesville, Indiana)
- Buck Creek Players (southeast side of Indy)
- Carmel Community Players (Carmel, Indiana)
- Center Stage Community Theatre (Lebanon, Indiana)
- Epilogue Players (near north side of Indy)
- Footlite Musicals (near north side of Indy)
- Hendricks Civic Theatre (locations vary in Hendricks County, west of Indy)
- Our Town Players (locations vary in Franklin, Indiana)
- Spotlight Players (Beech Grove, Indiana)
- Stage Worthy Productions (locations vary around Indy – no website)
- Wayne Township Community Theatre (west side of Indy – shows only during the summer)
The Encore theatres pay something yearly to belong. They also promise:
- to produce a minimum of two shows per year
- to never pre-cast a show
- to use all volunteers, and
- to name a representative and an alternate to serve on the Encore Board, which meets monthly. If a member theatre’s reps miss more than three meetings, there are consequences.
The benefits of belonging include the chance to compete for awards with other community theatres. The Encore Awards include everything from “Best Production” to “Best Actor” to “Best Cameo” to “Best Director” to “Best Set Decoration” and more.
In other words, as veteran judge Jan McGill told us new judges, the purpose of the Encore Association is to promote excellence in every aspect of community theatre. One way they do that is by running an awards program.
The last time I checked, I could not find the Encore Association’s bylaws on its website, nor any information about its history. However, the “Judges Responsibility Sheet” and the “Standing Rules for Encore Judges” are available on the Encore Association’s website for anyone to read. The “Judge’s Application” is also there. (10/4/08 addendum: Encore VP Jeremy Cales told me that the by-laws are under the “Judge’s Application.” You just have to scroll down.)
How I Became a Judge
Last spring, Encore’s president, Rich Baker, asked me to apply to be a judge, so I knew my chances for acceptance were good. However, I also knew of at least one Encore board member who doubted my ability to keep my mouth shut. After all, I spend an inordinate amount of my free time writing a theatre reviews blog!
I therefore filled out the application very seriously. I also crossed my heart as I promised not to breathe – or write – a word anywhere about any of the 2008-2009 Encore shows.
Other Rules for Judges
At the judges’ orientation in August I learned about several other restrictions. Between you and me, I hope I can remember them all! I am completely hooked as a judge now, after only my first month of judging, so I would hate to be disqualified.
For example, you have to step down as a judge if you miss more than two shows. However, even if you miss only one show, if that one show gets nominated in any category, you are then ineligible to vote for the winner in that category, even though you are still in good standing as a judge.
So, basically, you had better just get to every show.
Each Encore theatre is allowed to submit up to five regular shows for judging during a single year. That’s fifty-five shows. I see more than that in a year anyway, so that’s no hardship for me. In fact, it is much easier, and more affordable, for me to see fifty-five shows as an Encore judge since I don’t have to pay for those tickets and I don’t have to spend the four hours or more that it takes me to write each of my reviews.
However, a judge may only see each show once, even if she loves it. That is a hardship for me!
You must make a reservation for each show, and you must not be late. If you are late, it counts as a miss. These rules are a little challenging for me.
And then there’s the no-comment rule. If someone starts to talk to me about a show at intermission, I am supposed to say, “I am not allowed to talk about this show because I am judging it for the Encore Association.”
If someone starts to talk to me about any Encore show in a restaurant, on a bus, in a restroom, at a sporting event, just about anywhere on the planet, I am supposed to say some version of “Sorry, no comment,” as well.
When a show is over, I am allowed to clap but I am NOT supposed to say, “I enjoyed it” to anyone. I am supposed to put on my poker face and say only “thank you” or nothing at all as I move quickly past the receiving line that most community theatres make their audiences go through after a show.
But I have spent the last year working on overcoming my shyness about talking to people at shows!
Ah, well. I will follow the rule.
I make a reservation as soon as I know when I’m going to see a show. When I call the theatre, I identify myself (shyly) as an Encore judge. I get two free tickets, if I want to bring a friend.
So far, I have been too nervous about doing a good job as a judge to risk the distraction of a companion, but maybe I will relax about this after a while. It seems unfair of me not to share the wealth.
When I arrive at the theatre, I sign in on the judges’ sheet and someone gives me a page of notes from the director. The director’s notes are only his or her suggestions for who should be nominated for Best Actor or Best Supporting Actress or whatever. I am supposed to make up my own mind.
I watch a show differently as a judge than I watch it if I am planning to write a review. The difference is subtle. Reviewing is a form of judgment, after all. However, when I watch a show to review, I am collecting delicious bits of the experience to appreciate, record, and share with my readers. When I watch a show as an Encore judge, I am more aggressively culling anything in the experience that is not excellent, and noting what is left.
After the show, I fill out a ballot. At this point, I am only considering this particular show, not comparing it to others. There are at least two other judges doing the same thing, independent of me, so even though this part of the process is subjective, it is still much more fair than if there were only one judge.
I write down the names of the people in each category (“Best Actor” and so on) whose work I believe to be noteworthy enough to be nominated for an Encore Award. It is okay to leave lines blank if everyone’s work is merely good, not excellent.
Then I mail my ballot to the person in charge of either Plays or Musicals. (Some judges only do one or the other so that they can work on shows in the category they are not judging.) I have set up an Excel file to contain all of the info from my ballots, in case any of them gets lost in the mail.
I have decided to take my own notes on the sheet of director’s notes and on the program as I go to each show. I will save these in a special folder here at my desk in my home office. That way, even though I am not writing a full review of each show, I will have something to refer to a year from now.
At the end of the season, in September, the subjective process becomes very mathematical as the preliminary ballots are counted and double- and triple-checked to determine the official nominations. An artist or show needs to have a simple majority of votes from the judges in order to be officially nominated. (Note: I don’t find this rule in the judges’ rules, but that is how it worked at the ballot counting meeting that I sat in on last month.)
Then the process becomes subjective (but still not arbitrary) again. Each judge now privately does compare shows, actors, and designers and finally, secretly, votes for a winner in each category.
An accounting firm tabulates the final, secret vote. No one in the Encore Association – not even the judges themselves – knows the winners until the envelopes are torn open at the Encore Awards Ceremony in late October.
I think it’s going to be a great year.
I left the new judges’ orientation meeting in August feeling overwhelmed by what I had gotten myself into, but impressed by the fairness of the process and the dedication of the people involved. In September, I enjoyed meeting several of last year’s judges at the ballot counting meeting. I feel honored to be serving with this year’s judges. And, of course, I love going to all of the shows!
Wish me luck!
Or maybe, since we’re talking theatre, you should tell me to break a leg. But I think reviewer-judges have our own, separate, superstitions and if you want to wish me luck, it’ll be okay.
I’ll need it. I re-read this post the next morning and thought, “Yikes. What have I gotten myself into? I don’t know anything about theatre, really. Who am I to be judging it?”
But one of the reasons I started writing about theatre was to learn about it. I’ll learn by judging, too. Thank goodness, again, that Encore uses a team of judges.
Hope Baugh – www.IndyTheatreHabit.com