Saturday, August 13, 2016

a conversation with Chris Hamby, ariZoni Board president, about the changes in this year's Zoni Celebration

Chris Hamby
ariZoni Board President
by Gil Benbrook

I moved to the Phoenix area a little under three years ago and was immediately struck by the passion and talent in the vast Valley wide theatre community. After writing hundreds of theatre reviews, and launching this site, I decided to apply to be on the Board of the ariZoni Awards of Theatre Excellence. 

When I applied, I didn't know a lot about the Zoni's and had some questions about how the nominees and winners are chosen. I quickly learned that I’m not alone as it seems like there are some misconceptions out there, mainly concerning the adjudication process. 

On top of this the Board recently announced some changes to the awards celebration for this year that seem to have also brought up some questions.  I decided to speak to Chris Hamby, President of the  Board, to get the answers to some of the questions I had before I joined the board as well as questions that have come up in the past few weeks since announcing the changes to this year's Zoni Celebration.

"Chris, the biggest change for this year’s Zoni Celebration has to do with the three Contracted Theatres who participated in the arZonis last season deciding to no longer be a part of the awards celebration. I know this decision was one that took a long time to arrive at but for those who aren’t aware of what happened, and since this started before I joined the ariZoni Board, can you let us know how this came about and how you were involved in this decision?"

"Last October the ariZoni's were approached by a couple of the contracted theaters about no longer being involved in the adjudication process. They felt that with so few contracted theaters currently involved, and each of them doing such vastly different work, it no longer made sense to participate. After much discussion those theaters agreed to give the Board and myself a window to explore other ways to handle the few remaining contracted theaters. We brainstormed several other options to adjudicate the contracted theaters and ways to handle that category, we even held a theater town hall meeting attended by over 20 theater companies to address the matter. The ariZoni's worked for nearly 9 months to come to a solution but ultimately it was decided by a majority of the contracted theaters that their participation no longer made sense to them. There was never any hard feelings or bad blood between the ariZoni's or the theaters. I know that a healthy relationship will remain with all of the companies even though they are no longer actively participating with the organization."

"I know we’ve talked about still having the contracted theaters represented at the ceremony. What is the latest update on their involvement? "

"The contracted theaters have been invited to still have a presence at this years celebration and the leaders of those theaters have been invited to present awards as well. At this time I do believe we will see someone from Phoenix Theatre and Childsplay presenting this year."

"The other changes for the Zoni Awards Celebration this year include some things to speed up the show including no longer having a host and having a nominee sign-in table to avoid the delays caused when a nominee who wasn’t able to make the ceremony wins an award.  I know the plan was to also include more musical numbers in place of some of the time that will be saved, but that appears to have some implications as well, doesn’t it?"

"We will be including an opening number, so we will certainly be adding back that element this year. You will be seeing at least one additional performance. However, our window for rehearsal etc. is very tight so adding too much more may not be possible. Rest assured that the celebration director Rebecca Weinstein will be sure that our audiences are thoroughly entertained."

"While some of these changes have had their drawbacks there is a lot of really great news for this year. Not only will each theatre company – both Youth and Non-Contracted – be involved in the Celebration but the Stage Management Award has gotten a huge amount of positive feedback, and there is also plans to have the technical talent better showcased. Can you touch upon each of these areas and talk about both what you hope to gain from these changes as well as how the Stage Management Award came to be? "

"We have asked that each participating company provide a representative from their theater to present an award. We feel strongly that irregardless of nominations or awards each company should have a spotlight moment to be celebrated. Currently we are collecting images of nominated designs to be featured in the lobby of the TCA in a slide show format of some kind. It is very important that those artists on the design end have as much recognition for their contributions as the performers. Our inclusion of a stage management award this year is every exciting. We have heard from the community for some time that there should be a way to recognize these unsung heroes of the theater and it took awhile to finally agree upon a way to do that. Thanks to the efforts of Board members Karen Rolston and Rebecca Weinstein we will present our inaugural award this year. I hope these changes begin to show the theater community we are listening and constantly working to improve our process and our efforts to be true to our mission; [to] promote the visibility, cooperation and growth of theatre in the Valley and are dedicated to recognizing excellence in theatrical performances, as well as individuals who produce exceptional work in all aspects of theatre."

"Let’s go back to the adjudication process. What do you think is the biggest misunderstanding about how the adjudication of shows works?"

"I believe the biggest misconception is that there is somehow outside influence involved in who receives awards. This is simply not true. It's all a big math problem. Scores are assigned by adjudicators and sent to an independent accountant who tabulates them and they are the only person to see those scores other than the adjudicator themselves. Excel really is deciding who the winners are. No one involved in the process, the organization or the Board themselves knows the winners beforehand. Only the accountant and the plaque manufacturer knows who the winners are before they announced the night of the celebration."

"How long have you been on the arZoni Board and how has the Board and the arZoni Awards changed in the time you’ve been a part of the Board?"

"This is my fifth or sixth year sitting on the Board of Directors. I think with each leader of the organization certain priorities have risen to the top of the agenda. I think that like most organizations we have had good years and bad years but we have certainly always been working to be the best we can be for the theaters we serve."

"What do you hope for the future of the Zoni’s? "

"My hope for the future is that the ariZoni's will become an organization that is much more of a resource to the greater theatre community and is the vehicle that brings the community together rather than drive us further apart. I also hope that the annual awards event becomes more about celebration of the hard work we all do to create art against all odds day after day and less about who wins. I want us to celebration one another everyday but especially at our annual September gathering. I also hope that it's the most fun amassing of theater people during the whole year!!"

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