Exploring the Dora Awards
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Exploring the Dora Awards

Louise Pitre, 2010 Dora winner

At the Toronto theatre community’s Dora Mavor Moore Awards (the Doras), it was almost impossible to resist the analogy to what is surely in most pop-cultured minds the very form of an awards show. With the Oscars on the brain, everything at the Doras seemed like a milder, more Canadian riff off of something else, and everyone looked like they belonged to a genus of awards show–goer that all such shows are destined to produce.

So Jian Ghomeshi, the Doras’ host, could be, say, a mash-up of Jon Stewart and Bob Hope. Albert Schultz was Jack Nicholson (to give credit: Ghomeshi actually made this comparison in his onstage banter, which really only proves our point). The just-finished G20 and the looming spectre of its aftermath played, of course, the role of the Iraq War. And as with any good Oscar year, there was criticism over who was nominated, and, more to the point, who wasn’t.
In fact, criticism of the Doras’ voting and nomination practice may have been the one area that was not a watered down version of similar controversies, but rather a more potent one. Questions over how these awards are run have been asked, and everyone in every camp is mad about something. Richard Ouzounian thinks that the Doras are a cool kids club that blockbusting Mirvish plays have been kept out of (in the words of one Doras attendee: “Oh, boohoo, it’s not exactly like the Mirvishes are know for their support of independent theatre”). J. Kelly Nestruck thinks that the jurors’ nomination process is corrupt, and everyone’s up in arms that he even suggested it. Everyone hates the ridiculous melding of “a featured role” (supporting in Oscar-speak) and “ensemble” into one nomination category. Unlike with most awards, the conflicts and controversies at hand were actually refered to at the show itself. In one more explicit case, Michael Healey, accepting the award for Outstanding New Play for Courageous said that neither his nor any play nominated was as good as either of Daniel MacIvor’s mysteriously unnominated works.
In the role of featured political issue destined to dampen (or at least induce guilt for) a celebratory spirit, there was, as mentioned, the still-fresh G20 weekend. While Ghomeshi’s G20 jokes were let past, when he made a joke about the Black Bloc, he was met with open disdain. “Too soon?” Ghomeshi asked the audience, seeming genuinely bemused. “G20 jokes: yes; Black Bloc jokes: no. Got it.” It seemed that no one yet knew where to stand. The mention that David Miller was in the audience, for example, received warm applause, despite the mayor’s incredibly disappointing response to the weekend’s events at a press conference earlier that day. At the mention of Miller’s name, only one person booed. It may have been us.

At the pre-show VIP reception: from left to right, Dora nominee playwright Hannah Moscovitch, Dora nominee Sound Designer John Gzowski, Dora nominee Natasha Greenblatt, and her guest.

For our part in playing an awards show type, at the pre-show VIP reception we found ourselves succumbing to Joan Rivers moments (sans red carpet), congratulating people we’d never met, telling them how great they looked and that we’d catch up with them later, searching around vacantly for someone else to accost. This veneer wore thin quite quickly when stabs at “who are you wearing?” (we didn’t know anymore whether we were being ironic) turned up blank stares and answers of “I don’t know. My wife bought it.”
As we moved across the room, the answers changed. Someone was wearing a dress from H&M, and someone else had Value Village shoes and a purse snagged from the props room of an indie theatre. We’d stumbled upon a type surely present though invisible to cameras at the Oscars: the incidentally invited underclass. Among those stationed directly by the exit from the kitchen, waiting to catch the trays of hors d’oeuvres to cobble together something resembling dinner (or at least something that will offer counter-effect to the nausea of free wine on an empty stomach), we found up-and-coming actors, playwrights, and directors who’d been pitied or protégéed into receiving a ticket originally intended for someone else. (Our ticket actually had someone else’s name written on it and then crossed out.)
Turning the presentation of awards into a production comes with its perks and its pitfalls. Sure, awards shows are far too long, and everyone there hates someone (probably more than one someone), and something was always done badly, and it always could have been better. But if we didn’t want to put up with these things, we would dispense with the whole production and just put a cheque in the mail. The fact is that there is something seductive and appealing about awards ceremonies, and it goes beyond the free food and booze: people in the arts work hard, and this is one instance where self-congratulation is merited and, occasionally, even interesting. What role the Doras will play in the future may well hang in the balance, but no matter how things change, the ritual of the awards show itself will surely go on, and everyone will play their part.
A full list of Dora 2010 winners and nominees is here.
Images courtesy of DW Communications.