Announcing a Change to the 2018 Barrymore Award Categories | Theatre Philadelphia
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Announcing a Change to the 2018 Barrymore Award Categories

Jun 27, 2018

"I am thrilled to hear that Theatre Philadelphia has decided to remove their gender identifiers from their Barrymore Awards for Excellence in Theatre. By recognizing the way in which gendered award systems exclude non-binary, trans, and gender non-conforming artists, Theatre Philadelphia has demonstrated a commitment to highlighting talent regardless of gender identity. It is fantastic to see artistic organizations working to break down their institutional barriers and strive for an equal future for all." -- Amber Hikes, Philadelphia Office of LGBT Affairs

No more Outstanding Actor: How the Barrymore Awards Just Became Gender Inclusive
by Executive Director Leigh Goldenberg, For the Inquirer | Op-Ed

The Barrymore Awards for Excellence in Theatre this week announced a change to embrace inclusivity that is at once simple and radical.

Beginning this fall, the Barrymore Awards will no longer award Outstanding Actor and Actress Awards. Instead, our long-standing tradition of gender binary awards will become an Outstanding Performer award, welcoming performers of all gender identities into a single category.

As executive director of Theatre Philadelphia, the region’s non-profit that celebrates and promotes theatrical work,  I’ve had to do my own soul searching to recognize that a category specific to women was once a safeguard in the interest of gender parity, but is now exclusionary and harmful to those individuals who are trans, non-binary, and gender non-conforming.

In the process to make this change, our staff and members of our Barrymore Oversight Committee heard from nearly 50 artists — from all genders, many races, and across age and experience — who could be or have been impacted by our gendered performance awards structure, both favorably and not. In addition to these conversations locally, I’ve engaged colleagues across North America in discussion about our awards programs.

Theatre Philadelphia now recognizes a change like this one is more than just about nomenclature, and is certainly more than a question about language or even about a shiny statue handed to a select few.

It’s about who we lift up and who we leave out in the process. We recognize that in our theatre community, and in our country, gender inclusivity is just one of the larger, systemic issues we have in terms of representation and recognition. Addressing biases for race, physical ability, age, religion, or economic status are all necessary and worthy, and will continue to be a place for our focus through research, advocacy, and leadership as we forward this one concrete and immediate step for gender inclusivity.

As such, our performance category change comes alongside other work of our Staff, Board of Directors, and Diversity & Inclusion committee to lead both in practice and in thought — through anti-oppression and anti-bias training to self-assess our person and institutional practices; a concerted effort to diversify our Barrymore voters, ensuring that those viewing and judging the work on stage come from a variety of backgrounds reflective of our city’s population and of those artists telling the stories; the creation of new programs including Philly Theatre Week that break down barriers for participation and promotion, to publicly elevate those with a history of marginalization and lack of resources.

Our counterparts in Chicago, the Bay Area, and Toronto have likewise announced changes to their performance awards, and we continue the conversation to see how we as awards programs, marketing, and leadership organizations can model change for the artists and communities we serve. If we can expand the pool of who gets recognized publicly, we can broaden the conversation about what stories get told. And from there, which audience members see themselves on stage and find empowerment in their lives. If theatre is here to lead and inspire change, this is just the start.