By Megan Mooney
Monday marks the 18th year of a set of awards for the Toronto theatre community that you likely haven’t heard of, unless you’re a member of the theatre community. Unlike the Doras, which are filled with glamour and glitz and reported on by major Toronto media, the Harold reception is a more playful, lesser-known affair.
So, now I suppose you may be wondering what the heck the Harolds are, so here’s a little background.
The Harolds were named in honour of Harold Kandel, a notorious Toronto theatre-goer who died in 1994 at the age of 88. The year he died, The Harold Awards were born.
So, why does this particular audience member deserve to be remembered through awards? Harold was, well, unique. Not only was he passionate about theatre, Harold was also a heckler; you always knew what he thought, as did the rest of the audience.
I can’t imagine how terrifying having Harold in the audience must have been for those on stage, it’s pretty hard to keep your focus on stage while someone is yelling things (negative and positive) at you from the audience. As the press materials for the awards say “Knowledge of Harold’s presence in an audience would elicit a double-edged response of dread and pride in the heart of a performer. If Harold was in the house – it meant you had arrived. If Harold was in the house – it meant it was going to be a long night.”
The awards themselves were founded by 13 theatre community members and, unlike other awards, don’t involve a nomination and evaluation process. Each member of the committee chooses the person they would like to “Harold”. There are no categories. There aren’t a bunch of rules. Committee-member-A chooses person-Z to honour with an award for their contribution to the Toronto theatre community, and person-Z gets the award. No discussions, no negotiations, it’s that straight-forward.
And how are these committee members chosen? Well, that’s easy, they’re all the award recipients from last year. That’s right, you win an award, and along with it comes a big volunteering planning job. Seems pretty perfect for the independent theatre community really, since it’s damn-near impossible to exist in this industry without doing a fair bit of helping other folks in the community out for free.
In case you’re expecting your average awards ceremony then you’ll be surprised. Really, this is more of a rowdy group of friends getting together in a bar, hanging out, talking, making new connections, renewing old ones, and generally having a blast.
I sat down with Sue Edworthy, a recipient from last year, and, of course, one of the members of this year’s planning committee to chat about the Harolds. When I asked about her take on the night itself she told me “it’s a different kind of awards show, it’s fun, it’s silly, a good time is had by all” and went on to add “To name an award after (Harold) immediately gives the idea of what kind of an award this is”
That doesn’t mean it’s a free-for-all with no structure. There is an MC, in fact, this year it’s the friggin’ awesome Sharron Matthews , and there are speeches, but people can be as crass as they want to be. There are no ‘make it family friendly’ constraints here. It makes for a much more relaxed and funny experience.
I imagine at this point most of you have noticed that if the awards are on Monday, that means they’re on the same day as the election. But fear not, there will be election results updates throughout the evening. Also, since the Ontario polls don’t close until 9:30pm, there won’t really be any election news to share until probably at least 11pm. And, as Sue says “go and vote, then come the Harolds . . . what better place to be on election night than in a room full of like-minded theatre people?”
When I asked Sue the inevitable question “So, what do you think Harold would think of the awards?” she answered “You know what? I think he’d really like them. I think, honestly, he’d look at the people being given the awards and be absolutely in agreement. I think he’d be the loudest person there, I think he’d be the biggest heckler there, and I’d be proud to have him there. I’m glad they’re named after him” I may not have met Harold, but from anything I’ve heard, I think I agree with Sue. I think he’d be thrilled.
While the event is filled with “theatre insiders” that doesn’t mean it’s only open to them. I mention this, because it’s possibly the best people-watching experience you’ll ever have. I remember my first Harolds, I was new to Toronto, knew next to nothing about the Toronto theatre-scene, other than the plays I’d managed to get to and see. I sat quietly in a corner and just marvelled at the activity around me. I only recognized a fraction of the faces I saw in the room and on the stage, but I had a great time.
It is, unsurprisingly, an excellent piece of theatre.
Details for the 2011 Harold Awards:
– The 18th annual HAROLD AWARDS hosted by SHARRON MATTHEWS!
– Monday, May 2, 2011 the el Mocambo 464 Spadina Avenue
– Doors open at 7pm, show starts at 7:30pm
– Tickets are $10 at the door, and folks are encouraged to bring a canned good for charity
For more information visit www.haroldawards.com, find them on Facebook or follow them on Twitter @HaroldAwards