GREEN ROOM AWARDS
HISTORY AND DERIVATION
from Blair Edgar O.A.M.
I suspect that if The Sullivans had not been canceled these Awards would never have come into being. The TV series folded and the actors were dispersed.
Steven Tandy had worked in the sustaining role of Tom Sullivan from the inception of the program until the last episode. He was sharing a house with me at 97 Alexandra Ave in South Yarra, and after the program’s demise, he returned to the stage to work for the MTC.
Whilst we had been in London for the racing at Ascot, Steven was approached to be a potential presenter at the British TV Awards, by fate right there and then The Sullivans was being axed and we were told at Tullamarine, on our return.
Steven dearly loved Awards and Prizes of all kinds it was probably his Catholic upbringing, and it was with deep regret that he realised he would never own a Logie. It became apparent to him that they were structured around the publicity machines of the different TV Channels. I made one out of puff pastry for him, but it wasn’t quite the same.
One afternoon he arrived home with a bundle of papers as was his wont, and dropped them in the middle of the floor as was his wont, and sat in the middle of them as was his wont.
“Why?” he asked, “Why aren’t there any Theatre Awards?”
I explained that there had been “The Kutners”, named for Erik Kutner, and decided by the critics. They were under the auspices of the CAE and strongly influenced by the St. Martin’s Theatre, but that they had fallen by the wayside, probably due to lack of competition.
The notion of competition triggered, “Why don’t we start some for all theatre?” from Steve.
So we did. It was as simple and as complicated as that at the same time.
It fell to me because of my background in Stage Management, Stage Direction and Management – mixing across the board – to ‘round up’ interested parties from amongst those that I knew. Not only interested parties, but parties who if they chose could do us harm and stop it.
By involving people it was the intention to avoid destructive reactions.
By turning to the profession itself, it seemed smarter than allowing the profession to turn against the idea.
I felt it was better to know where the snipers were than to walk into crossfire. Part of that cross fire could have come from people protecting their own enterprises. [in my experience the limited talents not the expansive and comfortable ones]
Melbourne was still mainly main stream with a struggling Fringe at that time. The Fringe would burgeon but that was to come.
We wanted to seek out the best and offer recognition to the best from amongst all comers.
So, I sought the ‘approvals’ from the Directors of Theatre Companies, Artistic Directors, Politicians and the Press, Theatre Artists and Artisans.
The then Director of the Ministry for the Arts – Paul Clarkson, Eric Westbrook, John Sumner, Anne Fraser, Peggy van Praagh, Noel Pelly, Irene Mitchell, Kenn Brodziak, Lady Tait, George Fairfax, Alfred Ruskin, Sir Rupert [Dick] Hamer, Don Dunstan, Bob Crimeen, Leonard Radic, Betty Pounder, Ken McKenzie-Forbes, Sue Nattrass, Actors’ Equity and professional performers, Kelvin Coe, Robert Essex, Ray Powell, Anne Charleston, Suzanne Steele, Patricia Kennedy, Ray Lawler and Brian James.
I tried to find a group of people who could and would lead and whom others would follow, if we could get them to agree to go forward.
We gave a dinner at the old Green Room Club in Queen’s Rd and they did all agree to move forward.
At that point there were only four dissenters, Irene Mitchell who said the Kutners had failed therefore it could not work, Len Radic who declined on the grounds that the MTC would win everything and that perhaps there should be only one Award and that for a journalist. Brian James opted out, “Because I could never sit in judgement on a fellow actor” and Ray Lawler, who was to decline two offers of Lifetime Achievement said “Art cannot be competitive” but he wished us well.
Interestingly Irene Mitchell backflipped and came onboard with a vengeance when she sniffed out what was happening and was encouraged by John Truscott and Lady Tait. Once in she revealed herself as a bully and a dynamo and was a great help.
Future Presidents John Rickard and Hugo Leschen [who would rise and rise through the ranks of arts administrators], Frank van Straten, Lady Snedden, Glenda Raymond, Nancye Grant, Lorenzo Nolan, Pamela Ruskin, Greg Dempsey, Caroline Gillmer, Carrillo Gantner and Jill Smith and John Beckett all came forward and after several meetings with Paul Clarkson in the Ministry we were awarded $100 – for postage.
Steven was appointed the first President, I was the Secretary and Frank van Straten Vice President.
We were assisted in the processing of the legalities by the Law Dept at Monash University. [There is always a solicitor with delusions of thespian glory]
Next steps were to devise a review and voting system and a mission statement.
“For excellence on the Melbourne stage.” Was it and it was all inclusive.
Anne Fraser was busily designing the medallion – she would not have anything resembling a statuette – “They gather dust, I’ve got too many, you can put a medallion in a drawer.” She also said “Awards have to be hard won, they are for being the best, I will compete with anyone, to be named in the competition is important.”
She opted for bronze with a bird’s eye view of a Greek Theatre and on the opposite side a half Laurel wreath where the recipients name could be engraved. [by Perry Fletcher]
Performances were reviewed and scored and three times a year on the quarter days the quarterly figures were added up so that come December we had the finalists.
Wiley old politician that he was Dick Hamer insisted on “A constituency of 500” across the Disciplines – “because that way you have enough not to be accused of preferences and rigging.”
The final votes were posted to Equity and counted there under supervision and scrutiny.
George Fairfax made the Concert Hall Foyer available for the presentation. The staff of the Arts Centre trailed in out of curiosity. I paid for the medallions, Kelvin and George put up for some drinks and we got through the whole presentation including the Lifetime Achievement Award in 45 minutes.
Total COST to the Association [me] was $680.
So it was for the next three years. With growth and interest and attention we achieved credibility.
After two years Steven left to return to Sydney and John Rickard took over the Chair.
I had opted for John because he was a former actor, singer, dancer, favoured by the St. Martin’s audiences and was Reader in Australian History at Monash University and an official Government Diarist and author. Therefore, he had very strong credibility across the board.
We expanded the membership, concentrating on gathering professional performers to our ranks, student representatives, young guns of several persuasions, and committed parties such as Robert Whitehead and Christopher Boyd who was about to begin a journalistic career that attracted the Fringe to our endeavours and them to us, us to them.
Lady Tait and Irene Mitchell coerced Lady Travers who turned up with her cheque book, and we assimilated Lady Murray wife of the then Governor, and a former nun, who was a passionate theatre goer.
We moved from the Concert Hall Foyer to the ANZ Pavilion.
The Arts Centre Staff, the electricians, crew, PR staff, Scenic Studios, ‘The Pauls” Kathner and Anderson and their staffs.
Bill Akers and the Australian Ballet Technical Staff.
J.C. Williamson Stage Crews.
MTC Wardrobe and Wigs.
All gave their support.
All of a sudden theatre people were gathering at the Pavilion and walking proud, because they were being recognized for what they did and whatever their contribution was, it mattered.
Scene makers, wardrobe, wigs, milliners, carpenters, painters, ticket sellers, ushers, stage managers and the Managements themselves who provided the work and took the financial risks, were recognized.
“You did it for us” they said. And we had.
So that is how I came up with the notion of Theatre Day, which was steered through and was proclaimed by, the Melbourne City Council and signed into being by Winsome McCaughey.
The original document resides in the Performing Arts Museum.
Why the Third Tuesday in February? Well, it was free.
We presented the Awards on that day and thus avoided the Australian Ballet’s Board Meeting and hopefully got the dancers who were in rehearsal for the first season of the calendar year to turn up and add some glamour.
The central group expanded again with the additions of future Presidents, Beverley Dunn, Will Conyers, Rob Meldrum, aided and abetted by Monica Maughan, Jeffrey Milne, Philip A’Vard, Mark Williams and then came Tim Stitz himself the present incumbent.
We sought to include emerging forms as the work opportunities and the culture changed.
Gradually Anne Fraser’s prophecy and wish came true, they are indeed hard won and to be nominated for an Award is Prestige Enough. The late baritone John Fulford remarked on hearing he had been nominated. “Even to be considered for nomination by that lot is enough.”
Ruth Cracknell advocated, “Sydney must learn how to do this from Melbourne. They lump us altogether tell us how bad we were and give an award to a journalist.”
Nowadays the Awards are known around the world – they are even recognised by The Screen Actors’ Guild in America – you read about recipients or nominees in the West End or on Broadway all that is fine and all very well.
Maybe Melbourne has to look at itself, after all it is the only City in the world with a Designated Theatre Day when the City honours everyone who works in and for and derives their income from the theatre, it is also for those who pay their money and go to the theatre and the Awards cannot exist without the product of the theatre and the people of the theatre at every level of endeavour.
For me it has been more than a twenty-seven year journey fraught with threats of extinction, but somehow, in some way, like their mother the live and living theatre itself, these fickle children have learned to survive.
The theatre is a lusty old whore who will lie down with whoever pays her. Her children in honouring her admire her lust to survive, because they too lust for survival.