Helpmanns struggle for recognition

The 2010 Helpmann Awards will be held in a matter of weeks, but does anyone care?

The 2010 Helpmann Awards will be held in a matter of weeks, but does anyone care?

According to Live Performance Australia, over 15 million people attend live performances annually in Australia, with revenues exceeding $1.8 billion, which is quite remarkable.

The Helpmanns should be a celebration of such success, but a decade after they launched, they continue to struggle for any serious public recognition.

Part of the problem is the age-old difficulty of gaining media attention, and whilst it is a positive to have the awards broadcast live on Foxtel, until there is some sort of free-to-air coverage, the awards will never resonate with the public and therefore will probably never be more than a giant party for the industry itself.

But that doesn’t mean we can’t stop trying, and it certainly doesn’t mean the Helpmanns should not exist.

I’ve always thought the Helpmanns were too broad, both in their national approach and the amount of categories they cover.

Sure, Live Performance Australia present the event and therefore they need to put on a ceremony that honours all forms of live entertainment, but mixing everything from Symphony Orchestras to musicals just doesn’t sit right.

Such a concept presumes that a theatre lover is a lover of all arts, or that those who attend the symphony also head down to the Sydney Theatre Company to see a play.

It may be fair enough to suggest those who see musicals would be more likely to attend other arts events, but it is not a guaranteed sell.

Theatre is big enough to have its own awards ceremony (that being both straight theatre and musical theatre combined), and perhaps splitting the Helpmanns into smaller, separate ceremonies would have a better option.

It is also simply too difficult to take a national approach to the Helpmanns, given the variety and the differences that exist across Australia when it comes to arts presentations, budgets and experience.

We’re comparing apples with oranges too much and it needs to be looked at.

As for the nominations themselves, they are often a mis-match with plenty of confusing decisions.

The most recent bizarre call was the non-nomination of Cate Blanchett, who was a sight to behold in A Streetcar Named Desire. How Blanchett could win for a Sydney Theatre Award, but not even be nominated for a Helpmann, is a real head-scratcher.

When the Sydney Theatre Awards first started, I questioned their merits and wondered what they would contribute to the arts scene. It has turned out that these little awards have almost as much, if not more, clout than the Helpmanns. They know their market, they know their boundaries, and they stick with it.

The Helpmanns are an important part of the industry and should exist into the future, but there needs to be plenty of refinement if they are to ever grow out of their current shell.


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