London Cabaret Awards 2012 preview

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Ahead of the awards ceremony, panellist Ben Walters takes us behind the scenes

Funny old things, awards. They offer a platform for celebration, aiming to recognise distinction within a given field and to champion its outstanding achievements to the wider world. But of course they can also prove distracting, even divisive – not least in a scene like cabaret that thrives on collaboration and has a healthy scepticism of institutionalisation running through its marrow. So it is in a spirit of excitement laced with a dash of suspense that we hail the first ever London Cabaret Awards, taking place at the Battersea Barge on Thursday February 16. Most excitingly of all, the awards include the Time Out Audience Award voted for by our readers and Facebook fans. 

The awards are the brainchild of Paul L Martin, a veteran of the London scene for more than 20 years – a period during which cabaret has grown from barely a niche interest into one of the city’s hottest tickets, to be found everywhere from pop-up underground venues to august artistic institutions and Saturday night television. With cabaret’s profile growing ever higher, the time seems right for the scene to celebrate its finest achievements – however those might be defined. And there’s the rub… Through his company, Excess All Areas, Martin is producing the awards show, which will feature host Jamie Anderson, Mr B the Gentleman Rhymer, Four Femmes on the Thames and Josephine Shaker. But Martin has had nothing to do with the selection of nominees or winners. That task fell to a panel of judges he recruited, whose collective expertise is intended to cover as many aspects of this hugely protean scene as possible. 

The panel comprises Catia Ciarico, programmer for the RVT and Hot August Fringe and producer of Magic Night; Jayne Hardy, former Whoopee Productions company manager and Tournament of Tease judge; Lisa Lee, programmer at Bistrotheque and creator of experimental showcase UnderConstruction; Alexander Parsonage, artistic director of Finger in the Pie and independent theatremaker; and me, Cabaret editor of Time Out and creator of BURN, the platform for moving images by cabaret artists. We haven’t been paid, and shows any of us produced, directed or performed in were ineligible for consideration.

Our first challenge was to come up with categories that in as balanced a way as possible could account for the terrific diversity of talent at work on the scene. We then pooled our collective knowledge to come up with longlists of ten leading candidates per category, based on their work on the London scene over the past year. We were mainly looking at how original, ambitious and well-executed that work was, though we also took into account broader contribution to the scene.

It was at that point, when we saw how many great artists struggled to find a place even on those lists, that we realised quite how daunting a task we had accepted. But, using a points-based system, we whittled those lists down to three final nominees, then decided on winners through a combination of points-based voting and discussion. There are also two awards voted for by others: the Time Out Audience Award, hosted via our Facebook page, attracted votes from more than 1,700 people (each able to vote only once), and the Unsung Hero Award was decided by email votes sent by members of the cabaret community in praise of those working behind the scenes.

There’s no question that the London Cabaret Awards won’t recognise all who deserve it (no Scottee? No Frisky & Mannish?) or meet with everyone’s approval – there’s simply too much talent out there, and too many ideas about what cabaret is. The hope is that those who do win are acknowledged as credible ambassadors for what the scene has to offer – and, perhaps more importantly, that by shouting about the brilliant work out there, the awards are thought to be a good thing by the scene itself. That’s what the London Cabaret Awards will themselves be judged on in the end. The envelope, please…

Visit www.londoncabaretawards.co.uk for more information and follow Ben Walters on Twitter @not_television for the results on Thursday March 16 from 8.30pm.


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