In her book Yes,Please Amy Phoeler writes a chapter about nominations. Not presidential nominations, award nominations. Specifically, Emmy nominations. In the chapter titled “Gimme That Pudding,” She uses “pudding” as a code word for those awards- SAGS, Emmys, Oscars, Tonys, Grammys, etc.
In Yes, Please, Amy (I call her Amy because I think she is my long-lost best friend) talks about a year when she was nominated for an Emmy but didn’t win:
“The following year I was breast-feeding a six-week-old Abel. I was too tired to think of bits but my hormones were telling me to just jump onstage and grab the award before they announced the winner. Luckily I had enough oxytocin floating around in my body that I didn’t care or notice who won. (Edie Falco.) Jimmy Fallon hosted and crushed. I sat in the front row and heckled the after-party with what Tina referred to as my impressive ‘temporary rack.’ I broke my toe on the banquette I was dancing on. That’s right. ON. I acted like the blue-collar party machine I had been raised to be.”
I love her description of the appetite for pudding- you didn’t have a craving, you don’t even know you want pudding. Until suddenly it’s there in front of you, and everyone else seems to be having some. But you’re not allowed. Then suddenly all you want is a big ass bowl of the creamy, yummy, sweet pudding.
In my world, there are a couple of bowls of pudding, and this week one of them released this year’s nominations. I didn’t get one. All of my regular social circle did (If they were eligible).
This particular bowl of pudding is the community theatre flavor. It’s kind of weird, like tapioca pudding. Made up of lots of regular folks who work regular jobs and do theatre as a hobby, it’s meant to be a great refuge for the world-weary artist. Quite a number of us have theatre degrees or experience in the professional regional theatres, but also there are lots of folks who don’t have credentials but bring lots of talent and/or passion to the proverbial boards.
I consider myself an artist, a creative type who is, essentially, not competitive. After years in my educational theatre world, in a large Texan metropolitan area, I became disenchanted with the concept of student actors and technicians competing against others for accolades. In the educational theatre arena, kids come from all different walks of life. Some start way ahead of the game because their families have abundant education and resources and can put little Sally or Sam in dance, voice, and actor training when they are small. In my particular school, however, parents were often struggling just to afford a roof and shoes for the kids. Dance lessons and participation in a student musical that cost $300-$500 was not in their universe. Not even close. We participated for several years in my other big bowl of pudding, a competition in which high school musicals were pitted against each other for trophies and bragging rights. Invariably, the acting, production, and overall gold shinies went to the big schools, the mammoth ones with thousands (I am not exaggerating) of kids in the student bodies, hundreds of kids in the fine arts departments, huge parent booster organizations, and budgets of upwards of $20,000. Those schools also had very well connected directors. Insiders, ya know? We did get technical nominations four out of five years, and I was over the moon when I received my one nomination for directing.
But after it was all over, I felt so disappointed for my students. And yes, for myself. I knew how hard we had worked: the many hours of teaching a dance chorus in which no member had ever had a day in a dance class, the late nights sewing costumes myself because there was no one else to do it, the remarkable voice teacher who worked without pay, the kids who could only rehearse on certain days because of the limitations of their family’s gas budget. Nominations and medals don’t account for that stuff.
I withdrew from any further involvement in the competition. I wanted to just focus on growth, on art, on teaching, on joy, without worrying about trophies.
I believe community theatre should be the same way. We aren’t in it for the money, heaven knows. We are in it for love of the work. For love of our cast and crew mates. For love of our towns. The directors who are going to do their best work are going to do it, whether they get a trophy or not. Same for the actors, or the ones wielding needle and thread or hammer and nail.
In educational or community ensembles, when we creative theatre types pit ourselves against each other, relationships are damaged. The beauty of the work becomes tarnished. Confidence and the courage to take risks is eroded. Yes, ticket sales matter. Absolutely, the director has to do what’s best for the play. No, everyone doesn’t always make the cast list. But after weeks, even months, of work calls and late rehearsals, postshow photos with proud family members in the lobby, banged up knees and tired throats, the gleam of pride in a show well produced shouldn’t have to be validated by a trophy. The people who weren’t invited to the planning table shouldn’t be left outside the nomination circle (the people who are invited to the planning table shouldn’t be eligible for awards, either). Amy says: “You have to care about your work but not about the result. You have to care about how good you are and how good you feel, but not about how good people think you are or how good people think you look.”
Amy and Jon Hamm have hosted a “Losers Party,” at which the attendees who have won Emmys have to donate to charity to get in, but the losers get in free. My husband suggests that we do a big “Losers Toast” after our event this year, and the winners have to buy the losers drinks. And I say the nominees who lose can buy those of us who are just there for the ride drinks. Hey! I think I am onto something. I know which gal is getting the most plastered that night.
Note- I highly recommend Amy’s book. It’s a treasure. Rolling Stone thinks so, too, and here’s a link to the book on amazon: