Happy Halloween, everybody!
The 2017 Barrymore Awards for Excellent in Theatre are tonight, so I thought I’d celebrate by sharing photos from the last time I attended in 2015. As I recall, Aurora and I had a particularly crappy time, which is unfortunate because it started out so God damn well, as the above photo will attest. Don’t I look deliriously happy? Like, you-want-to-punch-me-in-the-nose happy? This was taken after I had to run back to the parking garage from the restaurant because my wife’s shoes were painfully uncomfortable, and I needed to retrieve her backup pair. When I returned, there was a vodka gibson waiting for me, which Aurora insisted they make with Lillet because their vermouth was shit. I love her very much. This photo was taken shortly after that, when we ordered a shit-ton of oysters. The gibson I’m holding is almost certainly my second.
But then I had an awful time at the ceremony, and only a slightly better time at the after party. Which is unfortunate, because there was a time when I was one of the biggest proponents of the Barrymores. I attended (I think) the very first one in the mid-to-late-90s, and went every year until the thing collapsed a few years ago. I even wrote the script for the ceremony in 2006. I was thrilled to hear that they were bringing it back under new management, and promptly blew the dust off my tuxedo in gleeful anticipation. So what went wrong?
Back in the day, the Barrymores was the venue to meet all the players in the industry. When I was starting out, I’d go to these things with a list of people I wanted to meet. My goal every year was to meet three people on that list, which I’m proud to say, I almost always achieved. Year by year, I slowly expanded the people I knew, until I became one of those people. Then, it became more of a place to touch base with everyone. Managing directors, artistic directors, director directors, other playwrights I would strangely only ever see at this freakin’ venue every year. Whenever I met someone trying to break into the industry who solicited my advice, I’d tell them to attend the Brick Playhouse Tuesday night readings, and get your ass to the Barrymores (in fact, I did just that not too ago, in a 2014 posting).
Was it expensive? You bet your ass. I see that the ticket is currently $75, but I seem to recall it being more when it started. Plus, I had to rent a tuxedo (it started out as a black tie event). Plus, I had to eat somewhere beforehand. Plus, I had to have money for the inevitable after party, after after party, and whatever you call eggs and coffee in a corner diner at 4 am. At the time, I was making $30k a year, so I couldn’t afford to bring my then-girlfriend (not that she particularly wanted to spend all night talking shop). I had to set money aside, months in advance. But I did it, because it was important.
Having attended the 2015 ceremony, I can’t say the same thing, anymore. Part of it, to be sure, is that so many of the players have changed. Theaters have come and gone, and there is a preponderance of tiny theater companies manned by recent-graduates, and even someone like me, who sees more theater than the average person, has trouble keeping up. But the decision-makers of the larger theaters, the theaters that have been around a couple of decades and have a proven track record? They weren’t there. Seriously. I walked in there with half-a-dozen people in mind that I wanted to touch base with. None of them were there. Other than a couple actors and a playwright I hadn’t seen in forever, I didn’t talk to anybody.
And the people that were there didn’t seem interested in mingling, in favor of hanging out in their own conclaves. Granted, I’m tantamount to a dinosaur, now. And it’s possible I was in one of the conclaves when I was twenty years younger. But I remember telling jokes to a reviewer of The Philadelphia Inquirer over martinis. I remember hanging out with my favorite director (Tonda) and Bill Egan, the then-president of Plays & Players Theater, in one of those seedy all-night diners at 4 am, trying to figure out how the three of us could work together. I remember shooting the bull with Bruce Graham in Coco’s, spilling dirt about how various theaters were pissing us off, and then spoking a cigar with Tonda on the sidewalk, afterwards.
Now, it seemed like the Barrymores was just a bunch of pretty people, sucking each other’s dicks. Maybe it was always that, too. Maybe I’m misremembering, or only remembering the parts that didn’t annoy me. But I enjoyed and craved that annual catch-up with the movers and shakers. Without that, there’s no reason for me to go, and so I won’t be attending the event tonight, and I’m $75 richer. Maybe it’ll change; I hope so.
And, of course, I’m still in favor of any celebration of Philadelphia theater (even though, to be honest, that was never the reason I attended). But as I’ve said in earlier posts, EgoPo’s The Seagull is nominated for a few things, and I hope something comes together for them.
And for anyone reading this who is attending tonight, try not to mind the grousing dinosaur too much. Have a great time, then tell me about it.
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