Awards ceremonies – just actors ‘slapping each other on the back’?

Matthew Hemley
Matt is news editor for The Stage, having started as the newspaper’s broadcast reporter. He covers all areas of the industry in his role, but has a particular interest in musical theatre. Matt studied acting at Bretton Hall and presents a monthly theatre news round up on BBC London Radio.
by -

Should we have awards ceremonies for actors?

This is the question that was in my mind having watched the BBC’s Newswatch programme last weekend, in which several viewers wrote to complain to the Corporation about its coverage of the BAFTAs.

One unhappy viewer, named Alan Boxwell, wrote to the BBC to state he was “heartily sick of actors slapping each other on the back at ceremonies like the BAFTAs or Oscars”.

He went on to complain that actors are not brain surgeons, adding: “All they do is pretend to be someone else”.

His last comment is harsh, given that actors pretending to be someone else give many people lots of pleasure, be it at the cinema, or in the theatre, or on the radio.

On the simplest of levels, actors pretending to be someone else entertain us, and give us respite from the humdrum of our everyday lives.

They also, through the brilliant writing of those whose plays or films they appear in, shine a light on issues that need to be addressed. They help throw a spotlight on the plight of others, on historical events we should not be allowed to forget, and – to quote Shakespeare – they hold the “mirror up to nature”, so that we may see ourselves on stage, ask questions and debate things.

Let’s not forget that actors, through the films and theatre shows they appear in, are also part of a success story for the UK economy.

So, in respect of his last point, I disagree that pretending to be someone else is all actors do.

And so to Boxwell’s argument with regards to the number of awards ceremonies there are.

In case you somehow missed it, awards season is in full swing and this weekend is the biggest of them all – the Oscars. Boxwell will probably be hyperventilating somewhere at the amount of backslapping going on. It’s probably best he hibernates for a while, until awards season is done and dusted. Night night Boxwell, don’t forget to set your alarm and wake for summer!

Seriously, however, I too have often questioned why it is that actors are heaped in praise at awards ceremonies. They aren’t, as Boxwell points out, brain surgeons.

But, having thought about it, the issue isn’t to do with actors being presented prizes - why shouldn't they be recognised? I think it’s to do with the number of awards ceremonies that are televised, and the prominence they are given by broadcasters. The BAFTA Film Awards, the BAFTA TV Awards, the Oscars, and so on.

And I suspect that the reason why major awards ceremonies are broadcast is to satisfy the general public’s craving for celebrity, rather than with letting viewers see who picks up what award.

We, in the industry, care of course. But do the general public care? Or are they more likely to remember who wore what? Broadcasters know that if they whack a glitzy awards ceremony on TV, people will tune in to see the likes of Brad and Angelina and others in their finest frocks.

There are of course awards ceremonies in most sectors – the journalism world have them, and I have relatives who work in the health sector, and they have awards too. The difference is these are not televised. Because who wants to see people you’ve never heard of collecting an award? Journalists also don’t dress very well, so no one wants to see their outfits. Trust me.

So, I repeat: the reason actors’ ceremonies are televised is to do with the fascination members of the public have with celebrity.

And now, I go back to my original question. Does that mean actors should not be recognised with award ceremonies? Of course not.

But should their awards ceremonies be televised? Well, that’s a whole different issue.