Losers' Circle

The world is bursting with people who would just as soon jack off as get laid, so it's no surprise that, for some folks, pretend awards programs are just as valuable as those that actually honor talent and achievement. For people who've spent their whole lives fantasizing about giving a Big Tearful Acceptance Speech, any award -- for penmanship, or comportment, or fourth place in a jacks marathon -- will do.

Luckily for local theater folks who've been waiting to thank the little people, there's the ariZoni Awards, a program designed to "celebrate theater arts" and governed by fairness so sweeping that it doesn't, in the end, honor much at all.

The trouble with the Zonis, which is billed as "the Phoenix equivalent of the Tony Awards" (insert retching sounds here), is that there are too many winners, many of them undeserving. And too many judges, most of whom either know nothing about theater or are sleeping with it, so to speak. There are as many as five winners in each category, because the Zonis is about spreading love, not singling out people for praise. Those winners are decided not by judges but by a "blue ribbon panel" of adjudicators, a delicious word that in this case means mostly people who work in the theater and therefore are likely to vote for their friends and whichever chorus boy they happen to be sleeping with this week.

The nice folks at Zonis headquarters always make a big deal about how the thespians who vote on, say, Equity musicals are community theater actors who only ever appear in dramas, or something like that. But any theater community is really just one big Sealy Posturepedic with good lighting and scripted dialogue. And if everyone's in bed together, nepotism is a cinch. The result is that the Zonis is one big circle jerk, and has been for years.

That's too bad because, with so many winners in each category, all of them voted on by their closest friends, the Zonis fail to have much meaning. And having all those winners means that the losers get robbed, too, because -- for theater folk -- the only thing better than winning an award is losing one, which is an invitation to snub the winner(s), pitch a noisy fit in the lobby, get shit-faced, and pass out in indignation. (Which is not to say that the winners don't also get shit-faced and pass out -- hey, it's the Zonis!)

It's time we called the Zonis what it really is: just another opportunity for theater people to act like circus animals in public. In this corner, the Valley Youth Theatre brigade, which sweeps the awards every year, but not because Valley Youth artistic director Bobb Cooper is the Zonis president. And in this corner, my favorite attraction: the Zonis crashers, who watch the show from the Herberger lobby monitor, because they weren't nominated, are too cheap to buy tickets, and because the bar is in the lobby. And in this corner, a lot of empty seats, because more and more troupes (including big guys like Arizona Theatre Company, Black Theatre Troupe, and Childsplay) are bowing out of the Zonis, barring the door to adjudicators and staying home on Zonis night.

I stayed home, too, when the Zonis took their 14th annual bow this week, because the only thing worse than watching a lot of goofballs cheesing all over themselves after winning a polyethylene paperweight with their name on it is watching a badly executed musical at Phoenix Theatre, and I had already done that a few days earlier. I know when enough is enough; when to call it quits. Here's to hoping that one day the Zonis will, too.

E-mail robrt.pela@newtimes.com


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