[img]http://hits.guardian.co.uk/b/ss/guardiangu-feeds/1/H.20.3/47439?ns=guardian&pageName=Do+you+have+what+it+takes+to+judge+the+Olivier+theatre+awards%3F+%7C+Shyama+%3AArticle%3A1311031&ch=Stage&c3=GU.co.uk&c4=Olivier+awards%2CTheatre%2CStage%2CWest+End%2CMusicals+%28Stage%29%2CCulture+section&c6=Shyama+Perera&c7=09-Nov-27&c8=1311031&c9=Article&c10=Blogpost&c11=Stage&c13=&c25=Theatre+blog&c30=content&h2=GU%2FStage%2FOlivier+awards[/img]Assessing the best – and worst – that London theatre has to offer has been a unique experience. Now it's your turn
The lesson I take away from my stint as part of the Olivier awards judging panel is that power takes the fun out of being judgmental. You can't walk out of a performance being witty, didactic or cross about what you've just seen. Awards are about celebrating the best, not punishing the worst.
The Oliviers are Britain's theatre Oscars: they enhance and establish careers and add months to the runs of successful productions. So much rides on their integrity that your preconceptions must necessarily be binned at the box office. You have to watch everything that's on in the West End, including the self-indulgent, one-joke Christmas specials you'd pay to avoid, and pop musicals that make the The King and I look like Proust. Worse still: you start to enjoy them. As a judge, you see the panoply and suddenly understand how the pieces, including the pieces you'd previously have given a wide berth, underpin the whole.
There is only one issue on which I remain constant, however: ice cream. The National theatre tubs are utterly horrible when compared to the creamy delights sold in the gilded auditoriums across the river. And ice cream is important when your theatre companion is often a teenager. My daughters were raised on musicals and weaned, via farce, on to the heavy stuff. Now 18 and 15, they are theatre-mad and the main beneficiaries of my appointment (each judge gets two tickets for all West End productions, except at smaller houses like the Donmar and Almeida).
In a normal year, I see one West End production a week and take the children to about half of those. If you, like me, are short and short-sighted and opt for the stalls, it's expensive paying for three tickets. The National and Young Vic have concessions, though, so my kids have seen virtually all their productions.
The Oliviers have blessed us with abundance, though. Each judge has to see a minimum of 80 productions. Where once my children fought over the last fish finger or who sat in the front of the car on long journeys, they now fight over who'll have the complimentary ticket for Enron, The Harder They Come, A Doll's House or Othello.
Ah. Othello. The problem with seeing a minimum of 80 productions a year is that sometimes you mess up, as my daughters duly found. Turning up to see David Tennant's lauded Hamlet in January, I managed to join the wrong queue: we missed the first seven minutes. Still, it was better than our date with Lenny Henry's Othello – we turned up last week to find I'd got the day wrong altogether. My daugher has yet to forgive me for that, though fortunately the show's producers have allowed me to see it another time.
A companion's views are vital, but I'm reticent when it comes to my own opinion – that's saved for arguments around the table at the offices of the Society of London Theatre, which supports and administers the Oliviers, and whose members will elect the finalists from a long list. The judges then have a second, secret, vote to decide the winners, which will be announced next March.
Four panels overall select operas, dance, musicals and plays for the Olivier, the theatre section being composed of five arts professionals and four members of the theatre-going public. If you want to apply to be one of the latter, now's your chance: you have until Monday to put in an application. There are no other boxes to tick beyond passion for theatre and the ability to argue your corner (oh, and the willingness to see every production that opens in London from 1 January to 31 December).
Like me, you might well emerge as a born-again theatergoer: even when I've spent much of a play or musical sinking steadily lower in my seat, I've been checking that the mists of my despair are not obscuring a cracking set or inventive lighting. It's impossible to come away from the experience and not have your view of theatre heightened.
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Guardian: Do you have what it takes to judge the Olivier theatre awards? | Shyama Perera
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