Today, we announced the winners of the first annual Stage 100 Awards, a new initiative recognising the most successful organisations working in theatre today.
The prizes will be presented every 12 months in conjunction with The Stage 100 and will recognise outstanding performing arts organisations and the teams behind them. Each award was chosen by our six strong judging panel, which included Stage editor Brian Attwood and deputy editor Alistair Smith, critics Mark Shenton and Aleks Sierz, Stage education/training editor Susan Elkin and former Theatrical Management Association president and Stage backstage editor AK Bennett Hunter.
Here are the judges’ citations, explaining why we chose our winners:
London Theatre of the Year - The Royal Court Theatre
It has been a quite extraordinary year for the Royal Court and it was the judges’ clear and unanimous winner in this category. The quality of work produced at the English Stage Company’s Sloane Square base has been exemplary, with the highlights of its 2010 season reading like a list of this year’s best new plays - Clybourne Park, Tribes, Posh (pictured above - photo by Tristram Kenton), The Empire, Sucker Punch and Spur of the Moment. The latter - written by first-time playwright Anya Reiss - also illustrates the leading role the company plays in discovering and developing new talent through its Young Writers Programme. Reiss was only 17 when she wrote the play. Meanwhile, its work has also extended beyond its SW1 home. This has been in the form of West End and Broadway transfers with the likes of Jerusalem and the forthcoming Clybourne Park - but even more crucially through its Theatre Local season, which has seen the venue taking its work to a shopping centre in Elephant & Castle. The UK’s new writing powerhouse.
Who’s in charge?
Artistic director: Dominic Cooke
Executive director: Kate Horton
Regional Theatre of the Year - Northampton Royal and Derngate
In a hotly contested category, Northampton stood out for the artistic quality of its work and the connections it has forged with local audiences. Its Young America season scored a hit on home turf in 2009 and continued its success at the National Theatre this year, picking up Laurie Sansom the TMA Best Director Award. Back in Northampton, the Royal’s programme ranged from End of the Rainbow (now in the West End) to an excellent Duchess of Malfi (pictured above). Less high profile, but as important, has been the venues’ developing role in the town and region. Its Hometown festival encouraged locally-born talent and theatre writing outside the big cities - with DC Moore’s Town addressing Northampton’s reputation as a mecca for binge drinking. The theatres have also sought to encourage novices through their Youth Theatre, New Town strand, their work with the Theatre Writing Partnership and as a partner in the biennial Linbury prize for stage design. Meanwhile, the Derngate offers a complementary programme, with a mix of touring musicals and one-nighters. This year has also seen the opening of the Core at Corby Cube, (managed by R&D) offering yet more choice for Northamptonshire audiences. Between them, these venues offer an exemplar of a relevant, balanced, local offering while also managing to stake their claim at a national level.
Who’s in charge?
Artistic director: Laurie Sansom
Chief executive: Martin Sutherland
Fringe Theatre of the Year - Finborough Theatre
This year, the Finborough Theatre near Earl’s Court in west London marked its 30th anniversary with a season boasting 44 premieres of new plays and musicals. This would be a staggering achievement for a well-funded subsidised rep, but for a diminutive fringe venue above a bar, it is nothing short of staggering. New writing highlights have included James Graham’s The Man, Anders Lustgarten’s Day at the Racists (pictured above - photo by Tristram Kenton) and Peter Nichols’ Lingua Franca (which went on to transfer to New York), while it also manages to attract a little star power onto its stage with Janet Suzman appearing in Dream of the Dog earlier in the year, which went on to secure a transfer to the Trafalgar Studios. And it isn’t just new work that Finborough has helped to discover, with a season unearthing lost classics from the likes of Graham Greene, Walter Greenwood and Ronald Gow , alongside Rodgers and Hammerstein’s State Fair (another Trafalgar Studios transfer). It is really quite remarkable what this theatre achieves on a shoe-string and without state support. Ongoing problems with the bar below appear to be sorted with the opening of the new Finborough Wine Café and there’s even talk of air conditioning being installed. Hurrah.
Who’s in charge?
Artistic director: Neil McPherson
Literary manager: Van Badham
Producer of the Year - English Touring Theatre
This was another very hard fought category, with a number of excellent independent producers and production companies from both the commercial and subsidised spheres vying for the title. After much deliberation, the panel plumped for English Touring Theatre. ETT is the UK’s only touring company specifically subsidised to produce work for larger theatres across the UK and it is precisely this kind of work - high quality, large scale touring theatre - that will be most under threat with cuts looming across the country. Under the guiding hand of Rachel Tackley - notably a producer rather than a director - its programme this year has ranged from the swashbuckling The Three Musketeers and the Princess of Spain (pictured above) to the intimate Lovesong by Che Walker. In between, ETT has given us Canary by Jonathan Harvey, a new play by Simon Stephens and the Caribbean flavours of Rum and Coca Cola. On all these projects, ETT has been a key driver in both getting them made and getting them seen by as many people as possible in venues ranging from the Edinburgh Traverse to the Theatre Royal Brighton. This role - as an enabler - is something which in the coming times of austerity is going to be even more crucial.
Who’s in charge?
Director: Rachel Tackley
School of the Year - Sylvia Young Theatre School
Founded as a full-time school for 10-16 year olds in 1981, Sylvia Young Theatre School has trained and educated large numbers of children who have appeared in West End shows for nearly 30 years. Indeed, it is rare to see a West End programme not featuring one of its alumni. Former pupils include Denise Van Outen, Emma Bunton and Matt D’Angelo. Despite fitting the academic curriculum into just three days per week - leaving time for vocational work - last year all 28 of its 16-year old leavers (selected for performing, not academic ability) achieved five or more GCSE passes at A*-C. After 27 years in cramped conditions, this year SYTS completed its move into spacious new premises (pictured above) with ten studios, two academic floors, canteen and gardens. This multi-million pound project was financed partly by Young herself, now living in a flat over the school, and partly by loans. The new home will allow student numbers to increase by around 20%, with the possibility of a sixth form being introduced. Meanwhile, part-time classes for adults start this month and children’s part-time classes and summer schools are flourishing. The school is generous with scholarships, one of which is sponsored by The Stage, in order to make SYTS affordable to as many families as possible. In the panel’s view, Sylvia Young Theatre School is an outstanding example of what can be achieved in and by a stage school. It is a leader in its field of performing arts training.
Who’s in charge?
Principal: Sylvia Young
Head teacher: Frances Chave
Artistic director: Steven Baker
About our judges
Brian Attwood has been editor of The Stage since 1994, having been deputy editor, news editor and chief reporter for the publication after working on two regional newspapers. He oversaw the publication’s enhanced focus on training and newcomers to the business, developing collaborations with the National Skills Academy and other bodies, as well as pioneering The Stage Guides ebook series.
AK Bennett Hunter has more than 35 years experience as a stage manager, production manager, general manager and producer. He has worked in the West End and in the funded sector for companies including the National Theatre, English National Opera and Opera North. He was administrative director of the Theatre Royal Stratford East and executive producer for productions at Strindberg’s Intima Teater and the Royal Dramaten Elverket Theatre in Stockholm. As a consultant, his clients have included the Abbey Theatre in Dublin and London’s South Bank Centre. He has been writing for The Stage for 30 years and is co-editor of Backstage Focus. A former president of the Theatrical Management Association, he is currently deputy chair of trustees of English Touring Theatre.
Originally a secondary school teacher, Susan Elkin has been a journalist for 20 years. She writes extensively about education and the performing arts and been a Stage contributor since the mid 1990s. She is now the Stage’s education and training editor. In the course of this work she visits many schools and other training institutions, talks to training providers at all levels and sees a great deal of theatre by and for young people as well as other shows. Susan Elkin is the editor of four of The Stage’s e-books on training and other topics.
Mark Shenton is a full-time theatre critic and arts journalist, who reviews weekly for the Sunday Express and The Stage, blogs daily at www.thestage.co.uk/shenton, and is London correspondent for Playbill.com and contributing editor to www.theatrevoice.com. He has been going to the theatre regularly for 34 years, and full-time (which in his case means five or six times a week) for the last 8 years. Mark has been Chairman of the drama section of the Critics’ Circle since 2008. In 2010, he made his professional theatre producing debut with the world premiere of Charlotte Eilenberg’s Shrunk at the Cock Tavern, Kilburn. In 1998, he also established the Divas at the Donmar season at the Donmar Warehouse in 1998.
Aleks Sierz is a theatre critic with 20 years experience of reviewing, now writing mainly for The Stage, Tribune and The Arts Desk website. He is also visiting professor at Rose Bruford College, and author of In-Yer-Face Theatre: British Drama Today, The Theatre of Martin Crimp, John Osborne’s Look Back in Anger and Rewriting the Nation: British Theatre Today, to be published by Methuen Drama in January 2011. He is a member of the UK Critics’ Circle and a Fellow of the Royal Society for the Arts. He works as a journalist, broadcaster and lecturer.
Alistair Smith is deputy editor of The Stage. He has written for The Stage for the last seven years, joining the paper’s staff as a reporter in 2004. He has since served its news editor and opinion editor and has also edited its annual Stage 100 list since 2006. He has also written for publications such as The Guardian, thelondonpaper and Hello and serves as mentor on the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Arts Journalist Bursary Scheme. Alistair chairs the judging panel.
Notes from the chair:
Selection criteria for each of the categories is broad. For example, the school category covers all levels of performing arts training, while the producer award could apply to an independent commercial producer as much as a subsidised production company, or a theatre making work away from its home base. In all categories, though, our desire has been to recognise excellence - in all its forms - over the past 12 months. Although the quality of an organisation’s artistic output played a defining role, it was not the sole factor, with excellence in other areas such as education, outreach and operations all recognised.
It is almost impossible to have a judging panel who are well-informed of the goings on of the theatre industry without any conflicts of interest. Where any exist, we have tried to make them clear in the biographies of the judges. Judges with any conflicts were excluded from voting in the category (or categories) where they felt they might have such a conflict.
Eagle-eyed readers may note the lack of any commercial winners in the theatre categories. We do not expect this to be the case in future years. However, in the light of current funding setbacks within the subsidised sector of the industry, it was felt that this is where the recognition that awards such as these bring could be of most use.