Theatre Philadelphia’s Barrymore Awards go for gender inclusiveness

Theatre Philadelphia’s Barrymore Awards go for gender inclusiveness

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Theatre Philadelphia is readying the launch of its 2018-19 Barrymore Awards season with a new approach: greater inclusion and diversity.

Nationally recognized as a totem of artistic excellence for professional theater for designers and directors as well as performers, the Barrymores award four cash grants of more than $75,000 each year to artists and organizations, and also recognize honorees with lifetime-achievement awards. 

“We recognize that the Barrymores are one of the most visible celebrations of theater in the Greater Philadelphia region, and we wanted to reflect the larger community that we are drawing both artists and audiences from, “ said Theatre Philadelphia executive director Leigh Goldenberg.

Last year, the organization began an effort to ensure that the nominating artists who judge their fellow artists were more representative of the larger, diverse community in terms of race, gender and sexual orientation, Goldenberg said, adding, “We’re continuing this into the current season as well.”

Of the 12 judges for the 2018-19 awards, six identify as people of color, as opposed to only two judges in 2017-18. And there are now eight cis-women, up from six, and one identifying as nonbinary, last season.

“Our oversight and inclusion committees went out into the communities and expressed welcome and invitation —  which is different than just opening our doors,” said Goldenberg.

Also new this year: Each performance category at the Barrymore Awards for Excellence in Theatre will be gender-inclusive, with binary male and female designations replaced with inclusive performer categories.

A date for the Barrymores is not yet set (usually they are in October).

Four performing categories will no longer be tagged with specific genders, Goldenberg said. “So it will be an ‘Outstanding Performer’ or ‘Outstanding Supporting Performer,’ with eight recipients instead of the four that were designated for each gender. Now there are many different options that can shake out — two women, two gender-nonconforming artists, two men. This should be interesting.”

Pax Ressler, a genderqueer composer, music director, designer and performer, said it’s about time.

“For gender non-binary people — who identify as neither exclusively male or female — this change is welcome, overdue and necessary. Philadelphia has an incredible amount of nonbinary talent, including many performers who are eligible for Barrymore Award nominations this season. With the feedback of nonbinary artists, Theatre Philadelphia recognized that asking these artists to choose a gender-binary category for their nomination is unacceptable and avoidable,” Ressler said.

Ressler was quick to note that Philly is now joining the ranks of other theater communities, such as those in San Francisco, Chicago and Toronto, that have made this inclusionary change to its award considerations.

“I believe any step that moves our theater community towards justice and equity is a step towards recognizing excellence that’s alive and well in Philadelphia,” Ressler said. “Non-binary artists are a vital part of Philadelphia’s theater landscape, and opening these award categories to all makes it possible to affirm their gifts. This is the Philadelphia theatre community I want to be a part of.” n

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