Art v. Competition (what?)

I had a conversation with a couple of actors one night last week.  The conversation turned to that naughty, eleven-letter word in the arts community: “competition.”  To award or not to award, that is the question.

You see, the two sides of this dramatic coin are publicly PRO: it’s important to point at greatness and collectively recognize that it is good, and CON: competition has no place in the world of art – can’t we all just support one another?

There’s a wonderful little organization in the world of theatre in “da region” known as the Northwest Indiana Excellence in Theatre Foundation.  This group does more than foster competition, but it seems to be known most widely for the “c-word.”

First, I’ll give you the mission statement of NIETF (as we loving call it – though we argue whether the first syllable is dominated by the “i” or the “e” sound): The purpose of the Northwest Indiana Excellence in Theatre Foundation (NIETF) is to recognize outstanding and excellent achievement in regional theatre in Northwest Indiana and to foster a deeper sense of regional theatre cooperation.

When I began participating in theatre in this area, I heard about the cooperation portion of that statement first and thought it was a MARVELOUS thing.  You and I can visit the NIETF website and learn about upcoming performances and auditions, click on links to participating theatres and post a notice that “I’m desperately seeking an art deco chaise for a set” or you “would like to donate a gently used men’s suit from the 1940’s to a good theatrical home.”  There’s also some less productive chatter that can get a little snarky at times, but is always endearing.

NIETF is also responsible for sending elected viewers to performances of participating theatres.  Those viewers judge aspects of the productions they see and an awards gala is held each fall.  That gala and a summer picnic are two events held by NIETF that offer the rare chance for all of us artists to socialize – I and at least several hundred other artists really love that.

But don’t let me skim over the awards portion of this.  Yes, nominations are announced weeks earlier and awards are given on the night of the gala.  I and at least several hundred other artists really love that too.

Just in case I’m not making my side of the debate clearly known, let me say boldly that I think the competition – recognizing outstanding and excellent achievement – is important to do.  In fact, we all do on a small scale anyway.  “Did you see that show?  Those costumes were wonderful, the set was great and the leading lady sublime!”  Of course, we say more than that in day to day conversation, but this gala doesn’t go there…. it serves to point at greatness and collectively recognize that it is good.

I appreciate the reference, the vis a vis, if you will.  And that, is how we learn.  Point all you want, we’re listening!

Donna Blanchard is an actor, director and freelance arts grant proposal writer