Two years ago, we launched The Stage Debut Awards.
The concept was to recognise the best emerging talent in theatre before they were famous. Internally, we – half-jokingly – referred to them as the ‘anti-Evening Standard Awards’. We felt – as worthy of recognition as many big names are – there was a need for a theatre awards ceremony that shone a light on genuinely new talent.
The problem is that it’s much harder to spot than established talent. It’s a bit like panning for gold – you’re going to find an awful lot of pyrite before you strike the mother lode.
The only reason we were able to conceive of the undertaking was because we already had a team of prospectors across the UK – our network of critics. Throughout the year, they watch all kinds of theatre in all corners of the country – good, bad, indifferent – with an eye open for the gleam of something special.
When they see someone making their professional debut (on stage or off stage) worthy of recognition, they let us know and we assemble a long list of performers, writers, directors, designers, composers and lyricists for consideration by our judging panel.
But our prospectors don’t always spot the potential in a rough diamond, if you’ll allow me to mix metaphors slightly.
Generously presenting The Stage Debut Award for best writer in 2017, National Theatre artistic director Rufus Norris jokingly revealed that his first review in The Stage was not altogether positive. Apparently, we described him as a “charmless git” when he starred in Yeehah! – a 1989 “tale of love, lust, betrayal and revenge’” set to country music in which he played a Clint Eastwood-lookalike fiddle player. Still, it didn’t hold him back.
So, when judging The Stage Debut Awards, to make sure true talent does out, we share our critics’ long list with a selection of 20 industry experts who add their own thoughts and highlight any stars-in-the-making we might have overlooked.
Between our critics, the experts and our judging panel, we’ve not done too badly so far: our nominees have already gone on to win an Olivier, star in West End musicals and run theatres. And that’s in the first two years.
But there is one final, crucial ingredient in the mix: you. This is your last chance to help. If you have seen (or indeed given) a truly golden debut in the last 12 months (from August 1, 2018) please let us know before July 19 so that the nugget, sorry nomination, can be considered by our judging panel.
Alistair Smith is the editor of The Stage. Read his latest column every Thursday at thestage.co.uk/author/alistair-smith