BY BILLY SUTER
THE annual Durban Theatre Awards, presented for the past 15 years to recognise and reward theatre work in the city, have been scrapped, it was announced last night by awards administrator Peter Taylor.
The decision was taken at a recent meeting of the management committee.
Members of the awards judging panel, this writer among them, were informed that a decision had been taken to discontinue the awards with immediate effect.
Taylor explained that this was largely due to a lack of productions in the city, both last year and so far this year.
It was decided to not present awards last year because too few productions were staged locally. Instead, awards were to have been presented at the end of this year, covering two years of Durban productions.
“The past few years have seen fewer and fewer new productions being produced and put forward for consideration,” Taylor said. “The last theatre year was particularly dire and this year has not proved any different so far”.
He added that in addition to a lack of productions, there was also a lack of support for the awards from the industry as a whole.
“We are aware that for several years now, certain sections of the industry have been very critical of the system, yet they have failed to engage constructively and have chosen rather to ignore the awards and have opted to not have their work considered.”
Approaches made to these critics had largely been rebuffed, he said.
“While criticisms of the awards have been primarily regarding the expertise and adequate demographic representation of the panel, and these have been heard, no suggestions on how to overcome these criticisms, be they valid or not, have been received.
“Without enjoying the general support or confidence of the industry, and with a continued trend of insufficient productions providing a reasonable pool of productions in each genre for consideration and comparison, and with almost all productions put forward for consideration in recent times having come from the same production company, it was decided, with regret, to discontinue the Durban Theatre Awards with immediate effect.”
Taylor said he would be sending notification of the cancellation of the awards to Durban producers whose work had been considered over the past 18 months.
He explained that there had been 14 annual awards events acknowledging, celebrating and rewarding Durban theatre work.
In more recent years, The Mercury had been the media sponsor of the Durban Theatre Theatre Awards and had presented a crystal floating trophy for Mercury Durban Theatre Personality of the Year, an award voted for by members of the public.
The Mercury’s media sponsorship and the ‘personality’ award were scrapped shortly before the 2016 awards ceremony. The final recipient of the Mercury Theatre Personality of the Year award was Aaron McIlroy , the only personality to win the award twice. He was the first to win it in 2007, the year it was introduced, and also the the last, in 2015. Other former rccipients of the award include Jailoshini Naidoo, Marion Loudon, Rory Booth, Lisa Bobbert, Liesl Coppin and Babuyile Shabalala.
“Now it seems that the time has come to close the book on this era in the hope that the industry will soon revive, and that perhaps, in time, another awards system will emerge to acknowledge excellence in the industry.”
In thanking the judging panel, Taylor pointed out that no awards systems could operate without an independent panel of judges, “and you are no exception”.
The current panel of Durban Theatre Awards judges comprised Debbie Lutge, Deli Malinga, Caroline Smart, Glynis Horning, Janet Whelan, Jean van Elden, Musa Hlatshwayo, Raymond Perrier, Siza Patrick Mthembu, Stavros Anthias and this writer.
“With hope, we look forward to an industry that will be revilatised and re-energised in the not-too-distant future,” said Taylor.