March 3 feels like a lifetime ago now, but that was when the nominations for the 2020 Olivier Awards were announced. Last Sunday, the awards should have been presented at their annual star-studded ceremony at London’s Royal Albert Hall.
Given the enforced restrictions, Society of London Theatre had no choice but to postpone the event and it will be rescheduled for a date in the autumn, yet to be determined.
The slot ITV had to broadcast an awards highlights show instead screened a programme looking back over the past 10 years of the awards. Although hastily put together, it was still an enjoyable reminder of a time when things felt normal.
I have felt that love and longing for the arts reflected through many of the initiatives that have sprung up online, created by different artists, producers and theatres.
But it’s also left me wondering if the Olivier Awards, in some form, could not have still gone ahead with their presentations, and whether this was an opportunity missed.
I completely understand the challenges that would have been involved. SOLT has multiple issues to deal with and adding the thought of how to stage its biggest night of the year to that load may have been a step too far in this enveloping crisis.
But as these past weeks have shown, there is no shortage of smart online creatives out there who may have got stuck into such a project with gusto.
If the Olivier awards had to be presented on their due date – and thereafter in the autumn invited everyone back for a big, and much needed, celebration of those nominees, winners and theatre – it may have been an opportunity to put theatre back in the public consciousness at this difficult time.
Consider that during the autumn – when hopefully these awards will finally be presented – it will be more than a year since several of the nominated productions such as Emilia, A Very Expensive Poison, and Rosmersholm, played the West End.
The delayed awards presentation also can’t be allowed to be seen as going through the motions, which would greatly diminish from the considerable achievement of all this year’s nominees.
Nominated productions such as Leopoldstadt and Upstart Crow were early in their runs, with rave reviews behind them. Along with musicals such as & Juliet, Dear Evan Hanson and Mary Poppins, they could have done with the publicity and hype an award brings – had the ceremony gone ahead last Sunday – for when they reopen.
One question worth raising in this year’s judging of the awards: was every Olivier voter able to see all the productions and performances nominated? Were some intending to revisit nominated productions that were playing before making their decisions?
Given some, like Waitress, have taken the decision not to reopen after the shutdown, will those that do be considered more worth giving an award, with the vital lift at the box office it would bring? This whole crisis might make some Olivier voters think differently about their choices.
Post-coronavirus, I hope it may lead to some reflection on the decision-making process for the Oliviers – and other awards ceremonies. There is a strong argument for a point-scoring system with voters, who upon seeing a production, immediately score it in various categories, then submit these securely. These points could then be calculated and serve in making nominations and judgements within subsequent discussions.
This would certainly create a platform that helped productions opening all year round, meaning that a show that opened in the West End in April for a limited season is not as easily overlooked in award selection as other works opening closer to nomination deadlines.
This is an issue that is arguably more prevalent to the Tonys where, in the month before the nomination deadline, there is an annual log jam of productions all vying for attention.
Voters seeing shows closer to that deadline may also be swayed by ‘recency bias’, with the latest memorable show sticking in their heads over better ones from months before. A points-based system would potentially resolve this and a create a better 12-month production economy for the industry.
Watching reports of Elton John’s Living Room Concert social media fundraising event last week, and the number of artists who were able to connect from their homes and participate, only strengthens my feelings that something similar could have been created for the Olivier Awards, which, unlike the Tonys, had already announced its nominations.
The Oliviers had an unenviable decision to make and Sunday’s highlight show reminded us of the enormous talent and joy our industry brings to so many.
And, it’s important that when we are back to business that the artists and creatives who have been nominated still get that much-deserved recognition, and their great work does not just fade away.
Richard Jordan is a producer and regular columnist for The Stage. Read his latest column every Thursday at thestage.co.uk/author/richard-jordan