London stage awards could use a rethink

In the wake of the March 21 Oliviers ceremony, when the favorite “Jerusalem” lost the main prize to Katori Hall’s “The Mountaintop,” while tuner “Spring Awakening” also won big, questions are being asked.

No awards voting system is flawless. The Tonys — voted on by some 700 producers, promoters and legit journos — are bedeviled by vested interests, principally those keen to reward work that will fill houses on the road. But the Oliviers, administered by the Society of London Theaters (SOLT), are tipped too far in the opposite direction.

Four of its judges are enthusiastic amateurs. That’s not a derisive term; it’s an accurate description of four members of the public selected annually via submitted reviews. The other five are pros. All are discouraged by SOLT from discussing the nominees with each other.

According to one of the judges, the reasons are that it could tip the balance in favor of the more persuasive voices on the panel and it would be too easy to work out who voted for which nominee.

But the panel does not choose the list of official nominations. Instead, its list of preferred candidates is submitted to the full SOLT membership of producers/theater owners who add their own choices and vote privately among themselves. Those with the most votes are the nominees.

That process is relatively unregulated. Although producers cannot vote for their own shows, there is nothing to stop them choosing work created by or with past/future colleagues.

It also raises the question: If the judges’ choices for the list of nominations is not binding, why bother including them in the first place? Why not go whole hog, admit producer control, and merely bring the judges in after nominees have been selected?

SOLT prexy Nica Burns has started a post-mortem. This year’s ceremony also raised serious doubts over why the industry’s biggest annual event was held in a hotel ballroom with a makeshift stage.

“I would like to have a complete re-look at the event,” she says.

One hopes she doesn’t just mean the staging.

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