>Also available on Calgary Herald’s The Q

Tonight some of Calgary’s top thespians and theatre companies were celebrated at the annual Betty Mitchell Awards. I was initially disappointed to discover that these were not in fact the Betty White awards, nor would she be making an appearance, however I was delighted to spend a night with those who are making a living doing what so many of us are too scared to even think about trying.

Having only seen one professional production in Calgary all year (The Full Monty), I was a little lost between all the inside jokes. But I soon realized that it was best to just pretend I had shown up at the wrong family reunion and decided to stay for the free food.

In true dramatic fashion, it was only a matter of minutes into the awards ceremony until it became obvious that this wasn’t going to be a regular show. When the first award was handed out it, it was announced that it was a tie, a rarity among any awards ceremony. But that tie eventually lead to another tie, then a three-way tie and then another and then another. This certainly wasn’t the kind of three-ways that theatre people were used to!

As the audiences reaction to the oddity of the award recipients changed from shock, to heavy sighs then to awkward laughter, it became apparent that the multiple multiple-winners wasn’t going to be an issue that anyone would be able to ignore. As a spectator, it actually made the awards show a little more exciting as I kept whispering under my breath “don’t be a tie, don’t be a tie”, for fear that these thespians might rebel against the servers at Stage West.

When it was all said and done no fewer than three awards (actor in supporting role, sound design or composition and outstanding lighting design) had triple winners, while two other awards (actress in a supporting role and outstanding production of a musical) were shared amongst double winners. It wouldn’t be wrong to say that this was an award show for the record books.

Over the next couple of days, many of Calgary’s media sources will be grumbling about the results and how it ruined the reputation of these prestigious awards. So the question becomes: who is to blame for this unique outcome from the 11th annual Betty Awards?

I have no problem saying that is certainly not the organizers, who were able to put together a stellar and well run show that rivaled that of most major award shows thanks to it’s breezy pace and easy to enjoy host Dave Kelly. After all, since when do we shoot the messengers?

Perhaps a little explanation of how the awards are decided would be in order. Nominations and eventual winners were voted on by the 12 member Nomination Committee and by anyone who has seen at least 46 of the eligible productions (0r 75% of the shows) by proof of submitting something called a Betty Mitchell Passport. Legalities of carrying around someone else’s passport aside, I think this probably the most fair way awards of this nature can be handed out. But because so few people actually saw so many shows, the votes become mathematically troubling. Of course, there are going to be double and triple winners when there are only twenty people voting. It’s just simple math.

While crunching the numbers, I couldn’t help but think about the Calgary Flames and all their season pass holders and their “never miss a game” attitude. And last time I checked their wasn’t a single Calgarian playing for the NHL team still riding high after almost winning a Stanley Cup four years ago, versus the dozens upon dozens of Calgarians that are involved in nearly every aspect of a local production.

So if anyone is to blame for the skewed results of the Betty Mitchell awards it’s Calgarians. We are the ones that time and time again choose to watch UFC fights, NHL hockey games or American Idol rather than enjoy real live theatre. We are the ones that have no problem spending at least $30 at a movie theatre to see a crap movie, but balk at paying that same price to see a show at the Calgary Opera.

And I’m just as guilty. That is why before the theatre season gets going, I’ve decided to make a New Years resolution (a couple of months early) and get a subscription to one of Calgary’s many theatre companies. A quick google search gives me a lot of choice, so I am going to have to choose carefully, but it’s not going to be easy. I think I will miss the Flames 50/50 draw the most.

Mike Morrison