Artistic awards are mysterious. It’s easy to take them as gospel—“best” is a powerful word, even if just implicit—but who are the shadowy arbiters of taste making the decisions?
Every year, Seattle’s theater community celebrates with The Gregory Awards, named for midcentury Seattle theater champion and ACT Theatre founder Gregory A. Falls. What began with a single award in 1998 is now a full-blown ceremony, held this year at McCaw Hall on October 28, with 18 categories honoring all aspects of local theatrical creation. (Check out this year’s nominees here!)
Community hub organization Theatre Puget Sound (TPS) produces and administers the Gregorys. Shane Regan, program manager at TPS and a driving force behind the awards since the ceremony began 11 years ago, breaks down the process.
To be eligible for a nomination, Regan explains, there are three basic criteria: a show must be presented by a TPS member theater (more on that later), it must be performed for at least three weekends or 12 performances, and it has to be rehearsed and performed in the greater Seattle area.
“We have anywhere from 80-100 nominators at any point, so it’s a lot of cats to herd,” Regan says. “But that’s how many we need, because there are about 130 shows every year that are eligible.” Ten Gregory nominators attend every eligible show and score each artistic element on a 1 to 100 scale. More importantly, says Regan, nominators leave comments so even shows that aren’t nominated get useful feedback. “We want this to be constructive discussion, so we ask for things that really stuck out to them that they enjoyed,” he says.
Many nominators are artists in the tightknit theater scene, which begs the question of conflicts of interest. How do you make sure people aren’t just voting for friends, or companies they work with?
“It’s mostly an honor system,” Regan says, “But I think people are pretty honest, and the good thing is, we assign 10 nominators to every show, so if for some reason someone was way off in their scores for a suspicious reason, or if they just happened to really like or dislike something, it’s very hard to throw a score.”
All artistic awards are inside baseball, to some degree (not to mention marketing tools, if you want to get cynical about it). But the point of the Gregorys isn’t to be a trophy arms race, it’s to recognize the immense amount of work that goes into making the Seattle theater vibrant. “We [theater artists] spend a lot of time working in our own spaces, and that can create some unintended isolation,” says TPS executive director Ariel Bradler. “Any chance we have to get together, to celebrate each other is so important.”
TPS plays a critical but hard-to-describe role, a sort of administrative exoskeleton for a chronically cash-strapped industry. Theaters and individuals can become TPS members, giving them access to the organization’s resources. There are the general auditions, where performers are seen by many regional casting directors at once, saving everyone involved time and money. There’s affordable rehearsal space for rent in the Seattle Center Armory. “We want to meet the needs of the community,” Regan says.
TPS certainly has its own financial and staffing limitations, but Bradler says expanding Gregory eligibility to the South Sound is a priority, and a task force is currently looking at the Chicago Theatre Standards to see how they could be adopted in Seattle. Being small and nimble allows TPS to implement change with relative ease. This year, for example, the Gregorys have no more gendered performance categories. “When it came to those categories, those whose gender did not match with the very specifically binary categories were most impacted, and we want to make sure we’re not excluding folks unintentionally,” Bradler says. “I’m really proud of that, and I’m proud of the community for being so supportive of that decision.”
For the Gregorys, community means all of us: artists, patrons, donors, staff and more. “I hope anyone who loves this theater community will come out because it’s a really fun night,” Bradler says. “Yes, we’re celebrating certain people, but we’re really celebrating the fact that theater here is incredible and robust, and it takes everyone to make that happen.”
October 28, 7:30 p.m. McCaw Hall. Prices vary. Tickets available here.