Tuesday, 3 November 2015

Talking About Adjudication

by Brandon Moore, Community Theatre and Communications Manager

Among an adjudicator’s skills, communications—both listening and speaking—is arguably the most important. Adjudicators have to be able to talk knowledgably and effectively with theatre companies about their work. So it’s not surprising when you bring a group of adjudicators together—as Theatre Ontario did at our annual Adjudicators Symposium in September—there is lot of talk, and a lot to talk about.

We talked about the past year of adjudication. Adjudicators saw ambitious programming choices and they saw safe programming choices. They were excited every time they saw enthusiasm for learning at theatres. But we also recognized that many theatres don’t know how to articulate their specific training needs: they just don’t know what they don’t know. Theatre Ontario used to provide “Workshops You Want”, a catalogue of workshops for community theatres, but demand was low—is it time for a revival, or do we need to explore other tools?
From a past Theatre Ontario Adjudicators Symposium. 

We reviewed standards and expectations for adjudications, and discussed tactics for a good adjudication. We talked about how much an adjudicator can know about what happens behind-the-scenes, and the inherent limitations of knowing what challenges a company overcame to bring a production to the stage.

We touched on feedback. As you would hope from anyone who is in the business of providing feedback, adjudicators are interested in receiving it, too. Together we have developed feedback tools, we will try to implement these tools for Theatre Ontario Festival, and we will continue to encourage regional festivals to have a process to gather and provide feedback for adjudicators.

We discussed inclusion and diversity in the pool of adjudicators. As one adjudicator put it, when recruiting adjudicators, we need to find ways to “excite people who may not think they belong.”

We debated awards and “nominations”/honourable mentions, and how that relates to the educational goals of festivals. For some adjudication participants, the outcome of awards can often undermine or de-value the educational component. But awards and recognition can be a valuable part of competitive festivals. While there wasn’t consensus on this topic, there was agreement that a perception of consistency in the process was important.

This year was our sixth symposium since we founded the program in 2010. As always, the opportunity to gather among peers was appreciated—“I haven’t seen you in years!” was frequently heard to start the day. Adjudicators work in isolation, and the value of coming together was reinforced throughout the Symposium.

My favourite comment of the day was that there is a “moral responsibility” in adjudication. Adjudicators encourage excellence through education and recognition. As someone one described it to me, a good adjudicator finds community theatre creators where they are, and with whatever skills and knowledge they have, and gives them the tools to move forward and improve. As we try to answer the question “What’s next?”, we will benefit by continuing to talk about that moral responsibility.

After the Symposium, I travelled to Cobourg for a trial adjudication at Northumberland Players. While it made for a long day, it was an ideal finale for me. Spending time with an adjudicator eager to practice and improve her skills, and observing the interaction between an adjudicator and a company—it reinforced for me that days like our Adjudicator Symposium are important. We should always keep talking about adjudication.

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