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Critics Don't Like Giving Speeches

April 8, 2008

On Sunday, I attended an awards ceremony and party in honor of Dan Hoyle (pictured right.) A team of five local theatre critics (Rob Hurwitt of The San Francisco Chronicle, Karen D'Souza of The San Jose Mercury News, Chad Jones formerly of the Oakland Tribune, Rob Avila of The San Francisco Bay Guardian and yours truly) selected Hoyle as this year's recipient of The Glickman Award for Best New Play. Every year, The Glickman Award (named in memory of play- and screenwriter Will Glickman) honors any new play to have received its world premiere in the Bay Area. Hoyle won the $4000 prize this time around for his stunning one-man show about Nigerian oil politics, Tings Dey Happen. The show is enjoying a revival in San Francisco at The Marsh Theatre following five acclaimed months Off-Broadway in New York.

For the review I wrote about Hoyle's play last year in SF Weekly, click here.

Though I love being part of The Glickman Award panel -- both for the opportunity the position provides to bestow recognition upon a very deserving playwright each year, and for the delicious disagreements that my colleagues and I invariably get into over dinner when we discuss potential candidates for the award every January -- attending the prize-giving ceremony is always slightly traumatizing: They make the theatre critics give speeches.

No matter how much wine I drink, I always feel a bit nervous about throwing in my two-cents worth about why I love the winning show in public. Yesterday was no different. I sweated and shifted around in my high heels willing myself to say something intelligent. Unfortunately only burbling noises came forth. To make matters worse, I was the fifth speaker out of five, which meant that pretty much everything had been said already. So I made a joke based on something that Hoyle had said in an interview about Nigeria being like a party where the dog's eaten the cake and all the lights are out and there's a hole in the floor or somesuch nonsense and ploughed on through with my eyes glued to the rug, ending with some juvenile comment about being "awestruck" by the dramatist's prowess. It was an unpleasant few minutes. But I got through it without throwing up, so for that I should at least be grateful.

The ridiculous thing is that my stage-fright was completely unfounded. No one comes to the Glickman Awards ceremony to listen to a bunch of critics rambling on. They come to rub shoulders with the winning playwright and his or her collaborators and drink good wine. Yet for some reason, knowing this doesn't help. At least Hoyle quickly took the attention away from my muttering effort by performing a scene from his play. In a touching moment just before he started the scene, the performer had to hold back tears. His mother, who was sitting watching her son, actually shed a few. The catharsis was welcome after all the excitement.

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