“Can you talk a little bit more about what ‘funky and fun’ means to you?”
Jason Ballweber was standing in a Seward arts studio, surrounded by a couple dozen actors, directors, writers, and other members of the local theater community. It was the second of two community conversations convened by his company Four Humors, which has declared plans to launch a new theater awards ceremony on September 24.
That’s a firm date, and right now it’s one of the only things organizers know for certain about the awards. Currently their sole source of funding is an Indiegogo campaign where interested parties can buy tickets. The number of tickets sold will determine the venue size, and they’ll figure the rest out as they go.
“This is not the Iveys, and I mean that in a good way,” Ballweber said. “We’re going to make a new thing that celebrates Minnesota theater.”
In February it was announced that the Ivey Awards, which recognized achievements in metro-area professional theater, were ending due to funding challenges. The glittery annual ceremony at the State Theatre became a sellout in recent years, making the Iveys America’s best-attended theater awards aside from the Tonys.
Corporate sponsors provided much of the Iveys’ funding, while the incipient Minnesota Theater Awards organization is decidedly grassroots. At the community conversation, Ballweber said that Four Humors was contemplating a “smaller, fun, silly, ridiculous” alternative to the Iveys even before those awards were discontinued.
Now that it’s officially taken up the mantle, Four Humors faces the challenge of crafting an event that will serve the Iveys’ celebratory function while also meeting the company’s goals of being more accessible and more inclusive, including of Minnesota productions from outside the metro area.
Several attendees at the meeting called for a more transparent selection process than the Iveys used. Extensive discussion revolved around how the awards can become more broadly based than the Iveys without forcing, for example, Fringe shows to compete against Guthrie-level productions. A representative from the Minnesota Theater Alliance pointed out that the state encompasses over 450 theater companies; most are outside the metro, and fewer than a hundred were eligible for Ivey consideration.
For now, Ballweber is adamant that some kind of theater celebration event will happen on September 24, and it will almost certainly involve the presentation of one or more awards. Beyond that, things are likely to evolve.
Asked whether he had any words of wisdom for the Minnesota Theater Awards organizers, Iveys founder Scott Mayer chuckled and responded concisely, “It’s more work than you think.”