Saturday, May 17, 2008

Is Drama Desk President William Wolf Guilty or Just Having a Hissy Fit?

In response to the disturbing charges leveled in Tom O'Neill's 3,000-word expose about the Drama Desk Awards in the Los Angeles Times, Drama Desk President William Wolf sent out this screed to the membership listserv. Like all leaders who know they're probably guilty and are cornered, Wolf has chosen the cowardly response -- he has lashed out.

Here is the text of his letter to the membership:

Dear Drama Desk member:

Why should Barbara Siegel have all the fun? I’m happy to report that I have now been personally vilified along with Barbara, our dedicated and outstanding chairperson of the Drama Desk Nominating Committee, who has received a tremendous outpouring of support from the theater community and membership in the face of the scurrilous and false accusations leveled against her by a disgruntled, vengeful now former member Tony Phillips, whom Barbara and I dismissed from the Nominating Committee for not fulfilling his responsibilities and impeding the committee’s work. I’m not looking for the sort of accolades Barbara has been receiving, but I know that I must be doing something right as president to generate such fury on behalf of a few malcontents who have their own agenda and apparently would like to take over the Drama Desk.
Matthew Murray has posted on the chat board a sleazy column by Tom O’Neil who writes the Gold Derby blog on the Los Angeles Times website. O’Neil attempts to create a scandal where there is none—there are only the wild, baseless allegations of a few. Gold Derby? We know that all that glistens is not gold. Sometimes there is only manure.

Every worthwhile organization has at least a couple of self-serving embittered members, and one task of a president and an Executive Board is not to let them distract the organization from its basic purpose, which in the case of the Drama Desk is to nominate and award outstanding work in the theater and hold forums on important theater topics. In the guise of wanting to help the Drama Desk, Murray has deliberately gone public to dump on the organization just when we are about to announce and celebrate our awards.

Murray has been grumbling ever since he was not asked back on the Nominating Committee. He even told me he was hesitant about renewing his membership this past season because he was so unhappy with the Drama Desk. I’m sorry I didn’t encourage his hesitation. In contrast, each year so many people who know the value of the Drama Desk are eager to become members.

The essence of the accusation by Murray and his ilk is that Barbara and I are supposedly steering the Drama Desk nominations toward Broadway shows. One has only to look at the broad nominations this year, last year, and in past years to see how absurd this is. The situation is just the opposite; the letters of support from the theater community hail Barbara in particular as a well known champion of smaller shows. Likewise, the attacks on the nominating process are total distortions. I’m accused, along with Barbara, of “bullying nominators” into changing votes. This is a lie. The nominators, unpaid volunteers like the officers and other members of the Executive Board, work very intensively, going to shows nearly every day of the week all season long, meeting frequently throughout the season as they strive to honor the most outstanding productions and performances in 28 categories plus special awards. Everything is by vote. There is a practice of allowing every nominator to bring up for re-consideration shows that h ave not received a nomination thus far, or shows that have. There is discussion. That’s called debate. It is not a nefarious effort to force a change in the result. Nothing is final until the very end of the process.

Some 450 shows were seen among the nominators and evaluated this past season, still necessarily only a fraction of the hundreds more that are mounted each season all over the city. There has to be some standard for eligibility, otherwise coverage would be humanly impossible. Since the Drama Desk credo is to have Broadway, off-Broadway and off-off Broadway compete against one another in the same categories, we can’t divide the nominators into separate groups. Hence, the Executive Board decided as a practical measure that a show must have at least 17 performances for consideration. That applies across the board, including showcases, festivals, organizations like BAM and Broadway. There is no way that all shows can be covered. There has to be some limitation.

It has been my impression that most members have been delighted with the growth of the Drama Desk and the increased profile of our awards and activities and are pleased with the way things have been going. The media scene has changed so much, especially with the great importance that the internet has assumed amid the decline in print theater coverage, that it became vital several years ago to open our voting ranks to on-line writers. Ironically, Murray, on-line himself, wouldn’t be a member had we not taken that forward step.

The Drama Desk has been around and will be around longer than any of us, and I take pride in being able to lead the organization as others have done before me. There have been battles before, and this too shall pass. Constructive criticism or suggestions are always welcomed. But it is important not to let a few malcontents, abetted by the chicanery of columnists or bloggers who are always trying to stir the pot for their own aggrandizement, deter us from our function by smearing the work of the Drama Desk.

William Wolf,

Your bullying, only Broadway oriented, the hell with off-Broadway and of-off Broadway Drama Desk President

Sphere: Related Content

No comments: