The Wales Theatre Awards is the biggest night in the theatre calendar and this year audiences are being asked to say who should be honoured on the night.
The Awards will be held in the Valleys for the first time, at the Blackwood Miners’ Institute on Saturday February 2, 2019, after being hosted in Cardiff, Swansea and Newport.
The Awards recognise excellence in professional theatre, opera and dance, created and performed in Wales, and in both the English and Welsh languages. Nominations are made by critics and from these the expert judges in dance, opera, English theatre and Welsh theatre choose first shortlists and then winners. There are also categories, such as design and ensemble, which embrace all of these genres and A Special Recognition Award and a Wales and the World Award.
This year the Awards’ highest honour, The Special Recognition Award, is being opened up to audience members to make nominations, by visiting the Awards website www.walestheatreawards.com and follow the link to Audience Nominations .
Awards director, arts journalist Mike Smith said, “There are no boundaries to who you may feel is most deserving of recognition – it could be someone who has made a lifelong contribution or a significant impact in their sphere, maybe someone who has been an inspiration or is an example of exemplary achievement in their profession.”
A unique factor of these special Awards is that they not only involve critics from around Wales, recognise performance throughout Wales but also travel around the nation. “We could just stage the Awards in Cardiff every year but it is important to visits different venues and use the opportunity to shine the spotlight on the contribution artists from that area to the performance cultural life of the nation,” he added.
Also important, he added, is that the Awards also try to reflect that excellence in the cultural life of Wales is not exclusive to the large, state funded organisations and that the valuing of diverse performance and creativity lies in the nation’s DNA, from the earliest oral and then written tradition through to miners paying to build their own theatres alongside hospitals and chapels.
That commitment to recognising venues and performers across Wales was why in the words of the 2019 venue’s Theatre and Arts Services Manager Giles Ballisat. “Blackwood Miners’ Institute are both pleased and proud to be hosting the 2019 Wales Theatre Awards for the very first time. Based in the heart of the South Wales valleys, it is a real honour for such a venue to be hosting an event which celebrates the best in theatre, opera and dance from across the nation.
“Originally the building opened as a snooker hall that was owned by the Coal Industry and the Social Welfare Organisation. The first stones were laid in 1925 and it was paid for out of the Oakdale Miners’ wages at 3d a week. Early events included tea dances, snooker/billiards, reading groups, rehearsals and union meetings for local miners. Today, the ‘Stute is a vibrant and professional theatre offering a wide range of events, including drama, dance, live music, opera, children’s literature and comedy, as well as providing a wide range of opportunities for people from all sectors of the community to take part in creative activities.”
While still a relatively young scheme, and run independently with no state or corporate funding, the importance does seem to have been recognised and value across the performance spectrum.
Darius James, Artistic Director of Ballet Cymru, said, “The Wales Theatre Awards have become an essential and brilliant addition to the Calendar, offering a chance to evaluate, circulate and champion Welsh theatre in all its forms.”
Welsh language company OPRA Cymru’s artistic director Patrick Young added, “We have benefited tremendously from the support that the Wales Theatre Awards offer to theatre companies across Wales. The knowledge that our work is being seen and subjected to peer review represents significant public recognition and is a form of endorsement that audience numbers alone do not bring. I can confirm that awareness of the work and achievement of other organisations helps to shape future artistic policy for small companies like ours – we are better and more ambitious because we are encouraged to be so.”
Cardiff-based Theatr Pena’s artistic director Erica Eiran agreed, “The Awards is an annual reminder of how much work is produced in Wales across a single year by these organisations and how varied and a unique opportunity for the performing arts community of Wales to come together to celebrate that work and our achievements and to applaud that which is assessed to be the best. It’s also an immensely well-organised and thoroughly enjoyable event!”
It seems the recognition that the Awards gives to smaller organisations and not only the large national companies is particularly valued. As the General Manager of Mid Wales Opera Lydia Bassett commented, “The Awards acknowledge the achievements of theatre and presenting companies in Wales, both great and small. We were delighted when our Autumn 2018 SmallStages production of The Bear was nominated last year – it’s great to be recognised for taking exceptional quality work to places which could easily be overlooked!”
Aritstic director of theatre company Company of Sirens, Chris Durnall said, “Financially and culturally, theatre is one of the great entertainment industries in this country, and yet it too often gets sidelined in people’s eyes as an elitist preserve, in part because it doesn’t have the wider reach of cinema, music or sport. Theatre is extremely easy to ignore if you’re not actively attempting to engage with it. To be a professional artist today is extremely hard. It involves immense personal sacrifice, and i praise and respect individuals who are prepared to make this sacrifice. The Awards acknowledge this by highlighting the superb diverse work created in this country during the previous year. Work created often in the case of smaller companies against all odds”.
Newport actor Daniel Llewelyn Williams, added, “The Wales Theatre Awards are a beacon of celebration of Welsh stage artistry. Without it there would be no torch carriers and a ceremony of such (modest) proportions is only what Wales as a performing nation deserves to recognise quality within our ranks from the four corners of the globe.
“We have attended the last four ceremonies and it is without doubt the first date on the calendar for any aspirational stage company. The Awards gives value and purpose to the arts in a small nation.”
Mike Smith added, “The Awards are now also a catalyst for a wider conversation in Wales such as this year when it opened a debate on diversity and also ethnicity matching in casting.
“We hope that the arts world finds the 2019 Awards shortlists and choice of winners as stimulating and the Awards Show as enjoyable.”
Full details of the Awards Show will be revealed later in the year and tickets for the Awards Show are available at www.blackwoodminersinstitute.com
Main image: Dennis O’Neill, who received the 2017 Special Achievement award.