This is the antepenultimate day of the year!
And many people --- particularly those who nominate for IRNE Awards --- are engaged in cudgelling memories and doling out "Bests" in all directions. I've made a first-pass at that myself, and my first BEST is for this theater-year itself! Everywhere, and on all levels, the variety and quality of work has been exceptional. Several of the usual categories bristle with difficult choices.
But I'm not going to list them here.
Instead, let me ramble a bit on categories themselves, particularly Actor/Actress, Support, and Ensemble.
That last, in particular, needs some explaining.
After an IRNE-Award Bash several years ago, I heard that the P/R flack* for a particular company had complained thusly: "Our show got Best Actor, Best Support, Best Play; and so it should have had Best Ensemble automatically, right?"
So far as acting is concerned, it's easy to see what "Solo Performance" means --- even when (as Paula Plum does) the performer talks and listens to a non-existent other or talks with several personae she alone inhabits. But back when Thespis stepped out of the Chorus and invented Dialogues, things began getting complicated.
The very categories Actor/Actress imply "Star" --- and that's in the writing. A Best Actor usually carries the weight of the entire story, as, say, George Saulier III did this year playing Hamlet; everyone else helps Him tell his story and allows Him to shine. That, in essence, is what "Supporting" means.
NOTE: [Sometimes contracts and salaries determine these categories.
Sometimes that Best Supporting accolade represents good work that is not "supporting" anything. I remember several centuries ago seeing Dan Seltzer barge on-stage at Loeb as the Bailiff, during the last five minutes of "Tartuffe" wiping everything that came before out of my mind and easily deserving my line "Starring Daniel Seltzer in a minor role." When I saw Brian Bedford's "Hamlet" down in Stratford Conn, Tony Van Bridge played the king so well that, at least when he had control of the stage it looked like "The Tragedy of Claudius, King of Denmark"!
And, to the point, I remember first noticing John Kuntz when I went to see a friend play Kate (very well I must say) in "Shrew". I don't know if the character even had a name, but Kuntz played Petruchio's servant, and he didn't merely describe the bedraggled newlyweds' arrival and first chaotic night --- he acted every part. But, to his credit, this wasn't the sort of obvious Star-Turn that Seltzer gave.
And we're back to Support:
John is a member of the Actors' Shakespeare Project --- pound-for-pound THE Best Company in Boston --- and in their year-ending "12th Night" he came on late in the action playing the twin-brother of the Star-part Viola. When the first woman he met in Illyria warmly rushed up to him demanding he marry her John's face did a few seconds of Star-turn all its own! Yet this, impressive in itself, didn't even take center-stage. Though John had played Dick Crookback in their first play "Richard The Third", here he played a supporting part --- not by standing out, but by blending in.
And there you have the true essence of Ensemble: everyone in the play --- stars, supports, servants --- came onstage well aware of their unique characters, of their places in the whole, and watching, listening, and reacting to everything happening around them. THAT is Ensemble playing.
Actually, I've been an advocate of the correct application of that term ever since, over thirty years ago, I was at the EMACT Community Theatre Competition when the judges gave a Best Actor award to one and a Best Support to another performer --- in a Two-Character Play! Highlighting such a difference insulted both performances in what had to be Ensemble or nothing.
Eventually, I refined the definition in my own mind as "an Ensemble Has no 'stars'; The Ensemble IS the Star!
Some plays are written that way. Some are acted that way
And there are such shows, right here in Boston, all the time.
That makes seeing so many plays doubly rewarding.
It's the problem of winnowing down too very many "Bests" to "THE Best" in so many categories that is really hard!