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Awards Rivalry Heats Up

January 11, 1998|Don Shirley | Don Shirley is a Times staff writer

L.A. stage artists generally aren't paid well, but at least they can win certificates and plaques.

These opportunities are growing, now that Back Stage West has entered the awards show arena. The weekly trade newspaper's first annual Garland Awards will be presented at the Coronet Theatre on Monday at 7:30 p.m.

That's one week before the 21st annual Drama-Logue Awards are passed out Jan. 19 at 7 p.m. at the Pasadena Playhouse. DramaLogue, the area's longest-established trade newspaper for actors and other theater folk, is engaged in a circulation battle with the upstart Back Stage West.

These two awards shows follow the peer-judged Ovations and the NAACP awards but precede the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle awards and (for shows in smaller theaters only) the L.A. Weekly awards. Then there are the personal Robby Awards presented by critic Rob Stevens (who also happens to be the president of the L.A. Drama Critics Circle).

Drama-Logue Awards may be better known by the general public than the publication itself, for they are frequently cited in program bios.

"It kills me to look in programs and see 'Drama-Logue Award' by everyone's name," remarked Back Stage West editor Rob Kendt. Most theatergoers "don't know there are a million people with Drama-Logue Awards."

Well, maybe not a million. But it's true that each Drama-Logue critic gives as many awards as he or she desires to people who were affiliated with the shows that he or she reviewed during the year. No confirming second opinion is required.

This year, Drama-Logue will present 914 awards--and those awards honor more than 914 people, for some of them go to producing or designing teams or acting ensembles. The winners were announced in the paper's Jan. 1-7 issue, so most of those who attend the ceremony will already know they've won something.

Still, the Pasadena Playhouse seats only 686. Drama-Logue Editor Faye Bordy Fears said that's not a problem--many winners hang out in the playhouse courtyard or the nearby restaurant during much of the show, going into the theater only when the critic who honored their particular show is presenting his or her awards.

Back Stage West's Kendt said that many Drama-Logue winners use the award in their resumes but otherwise "don't take it seriously." When people urged his paper to give out awards, too, "I couldn't think of a logical way to do it that wasn't just a copy"--until now.

The new Garlands won't be based on just one critic's say-so. Back Stage West asked its critics for nominations and then decided to present an award to whomever was mentioned by at least two critics. The result: a mere 110 awards--to be presented in a venue that seats 272.

"It splits the difference between being generous and opening the floodgates," Kendt said. Another distinction for the Garlands: Though L.A.-dominated, they include productions as far north as Seattle, while Drama-Logue doesn't venture beyond San Francisco.

Kendt acknowledged that the Garlands "grow out of the same impulse" as the Drama-Logue Awards and that both awards programs promote the papers as well as the winners. "I just thought that we should do it better," he said.

For her part, Drama-Logue's Fears said she thinks "it's fine" that her competitor is joining the awards field. Many artists who work in smaller theater "don't get any kind of recognition except awards," she said. And she answered the contention that the quantity of her awards devalues their quality by citing the number of shows Drama-Logue reviewed this year: 1,170, nearly all of which involved at least two and perhaps dozens of possible award contenders. "I wish we could recognize more than we do," she said.

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