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Thanking the little people
By Chris Colcord
Fort Wayne Reader
Every January, it happens the same, depressing way. My earnest resolution is that I vow not to be such a vicious minded, cynical jerk in the upcoming year, and then, seemingly within minutes of my pledge, I notice that the Whammy award nominations have been released and instantly my resolve is shot and I become a snarling churl again. There's something about local awards shows that brings out the beast in me, that makes me want to rage and ridicule and fling contempt about and I'm almost powerless in its grip. I can't quite put my finger on why this is--celebrating local achievements in the arts sounds relatively innocuous, after all--yet I'm certain that there's something inherently diseased about the whole concept.
And, by the way, I know that I am an absolute hypocrite about all this--not only have I won a number of awards from local theatres, but I also participate frequently in the very awards ceremonies that I'm now criticizing. (In fact, I helped do the entertainment for a show last year.) There's no way I can justify these contradictions, so I won't apologize, and I really can't explain my behavior except to say that I'm a perverse so-and-so with a high tolerance for the occasional sideshows that life frequently provides. I've been going to local awards shows for years now and I find them almost hypnotically fascinating, even if I hate myself for being there.
And speaking of contradictions, I'd like to emphasize that while I think the award shows can be painfully wrong, the artists who are actually nominated are often talented people that I greatly respect. Being serious about your art is not an easy gig in Fort Wayne--I'd say 98% of artists who provide the paintings, plays, concerts in this city make zero money doing what they do. And yet they continue to do it, keep pouring their time and energy into their endeavors, they keep working to get better while no longer expecting to get paid for it. "Why bother?" I'm sure is a question all Fort Wayne artists must ask themselves at some point, but to me it shows that they have integrity, pure and simple, and a commitment to the noble and somewhat antiquated ideal that great art can enrich the lives of the public.
So it always seems inexplicable to me when I see a talented, accomplished Fort Wayne artist pimp his friends for votes on his MySpace account. I've noticed that this practice has been happening for a couple of years now, and for the life of me, I can't understand it, can't understand why a true artist would demean himself for a crappy hunk of metal and some molded plastic. I understand that all artists need encouragement and validation from time to time, but lobbying for votes for a wholly artificial and ultimately meaningless award? Shouldn't artists have a thicker skin than that?
Most local awards ceremonies are popularity contests where the nominees are gently encouraged to get their fans out--how can this possibly be reflective of critical achievement? The whole notion of requesting approval from your audience seems antithetical to the entire creative process. I refer you back to that great testament of artistic integrity, Saturday Night Fever — Travolta refuses the disco award when he realized the Puerto Rican dancers are better, even though his friends have made the most noise.
And look, I like celebratory parties, I love loose, booze-filled concerts where friends and fellow artists gather and there is a real sense of camaraderie and community. But awards shows bring out the tacky, competitive parts in us all. When I won my first acting award, I was secretly thrilled, I made an earnest, self-deprecating speech, and when I left the award stand to applause I felt a deep flush of satisfaction. It wasn't until a few hours later that I realized what a complete ass I'd been. First of all, and most importantly, I remembered then that performance I gave in the play that I was being celebrated for was awful. Terrible. I knew it during the run of the show, I knew it when the show was over, I even knew it when I received my nomination in the mail. But at the awards ceremony, somehow, I managed to forget this rather central fact. And when I made my speech, I lost all sense of perspective--I was funny, all right, but I was also histrionically, embarrassingly sincere about winning the award and how much it meant to me. What did it mean to me? I had no idea. It's funny, when you get onstage at awards shows, how words come out of your mouth seemingly of their own accord.
Occasionally it happens, that I'll see a truly great performance in Fort Wayne that gets properly rewarded, but most often the truly inspiring, electrifying shows go unnoticed by most people, including the ones handing out awards. This should come as no surprise to the artist, the true artist, the guy or girl who is in the basement, or on the stage, the one who's trying for the thousandth time to get it right, the one who is oblivious to whether anybody is there to cheer them on.