Report from Elise Greig, Chair of the Matildas Judging Panel
Hard to believe it’s been over 3 months since the 2017 Matilda Awards ceremony, but it has, and we’ve hit the ground running here at the Matilda Judging Committee. As announced at the awards ceremony, we have a fresh new committee - Rosemary Walker, Nathan Sibthorpe, Catarina Hebbard, James Harper, Yvette Walker, Lewis Jones, Nasim Khosravi, Troy Ollerenshaw, Susan Hetherington, Anna Yen and, I (Elise Greig) as Lead Judge.
An important element of the role of Lead Judge is to maintain clear and open communication with the theatre industry. Therefore, on behalf of the Matilda Judging committee, I would like to introduce you to the Matilda Newsletter. This newsletter will be distributed every few months and will aim to keep members of the Queensland theatre community and other interested parties in the loop regarding what’s been happening during Judging Committee and Executive meetings.
We think it’s also important to acknowledge the separate roles of the Judging Committee and the Executive. The role of the Judging Committee is to facilitate the recognition of artistic achievement and excellence in the industry by judging and distributing the awards. We view, evaluate and vote on the productions we see, with each committee member bringing their unique aesthetic to the criteria of excellence, execution and degree of difficulty. Of course, there is nuance within the criteria, but these are the broad criteria against which we assess the work we see. That might explain why sometimes shows or elements of shows might make the long list for a particular category but don’t make the short list – perhaps they scored lower on one of the criteria. Alongside our judging role we also discuss other industry and awards issues as they arise and report our recommendations to the Executive. It is, however, the Executive who make the final ruling on any issues. The primary function of the Executive is to act as a management committee, dealing with governance. They are therefore responsible for abiding by the rules of the constitution, dealing with funding bodies and overseeing the awards ceremony and Judging Committee. In short, the Judging Committee can make recommendations regarding management issues, but the Executive will have the final ruling on those issues.
The Judging Committee has met twice since the awards and there have been a number of key issues raised during these meetings that we’d like to address openly.
The first issue is whether Judging Committee members should be eligible for Matilda Awards. This issue has particular currency this year because we have seen an increase in the number of artists on the committee and two judges were nominated for and also won, awards at the 2017 Matilda Awards – Anna Yen as part of the GUSH collective for Best Costume and myself, Elise Greig, tying for the award of Supporting Actor Female.
We have discussed these issues at length during, and outside of, our Judging Committee meetings and we have also consulted with industry leaders and members before referring the final decision to the Executive Committee. There was also a suggestion that judges need to not only disqualify themselves from eligibility, but also everyone associated with any projects or productions they are associated with. While this last suggestion is simply not workable, we raise it because it was brought to the committee as a suggestion from within the industry and it is important to represent the breadth of the conversation.
The two key issues associated with the stance that judges should not be eligible for awards are that there could be a perceived conflict of interest and/or a fear that judges could somehow influence the vote in their favour. We feel that an explanation of the voting process might allay these concerns.
The voting process is published on the website (see page 34 of the constitution), but we’ll go through a summary of it here. It is a rigorous formula that has been checked by two mathematicians on separate occasions, ensuring a rigorous and unbiased process. In a nutshell: judges see shows, keep their own notes and records of attendance and can nominate shows via a ‘tracker’ throughout the year. We then meet regularly as a committee to discuss the shows we’ve seen. We don’t vote at this stage, rather we discuss the shows according to the criteria and the unique area of expertise each judge brings to the table. Then, at the end of the theatre season the judges meet to vote. A long list is generated for each category and we then vote on each nomination within the long list using the voting formula as explained on the website. In short, each judge has 4 votes for each nomination and can vote 4 for their favourite, 3 for their next, 2 … etc. Or they can choose not to use their votes if they do not think a category has worthy nominees. The votes are then tallied for each category and divided by the number of judges who saw the production. This ‘averages’ the vote. A short list is then generated, which includes the winner of the category. You can see the voting system is a balanced process that is a combination of qualitative methods (discussion, analysis, peer review and debate throughout the year) and then at the end of the year it becomes quantitative (mathematical).
Judges Being Eligible for Awards
The Judging Committee and the Executive believe that the inclusion of artists on the Judging Committee supports the relevance and currency of the awards and facilitates a high level of discussion of craft, execution and excellence from a unique artist perspective. It is important that the Judging Committee reflects the industry and mirrors the values of excellence the Matilda Awards promote. As stated in the constitution, the Judging committee consists of practising artists of a high level who are currently working within the industry, along with, but not limited to reviewers, academics and educators. Judges are asked to commit to their role for 2 years. If we are to exclude artists from awards eligibility we run the risk of isolating artists or ‘penalising’ them if they choose to volunteer for the committee. Supporting artists with a rigorous process and structure enables them to extend their participation within the industry beyond their artistic practice and bring their unique and diverse voices to the Judging Committee table.
The key issue was raised - If the discussion and voting processes are structured in such a way that they are rigorous and unbiased and there is obvious benefit to the awards in general if artists are included as part of the Judging Committee, then why should these artists not be eligible for awards? Examples of other awards and organisations that enable artists to participate were cited as precedents, including: artists sitting on the Australia Council assessment boards and excusing themselves when projects they are associated with are assessed; the QPDA where judges associated with submitted projects excuse themselves from the decision-making process and the former National Artistic Team at QT where artists were still allowed to be considered for, and included in, main house seasons.
The Executive have ruled that if we are to attract a dynamic, relevant judging committee that includes artists of excellence who are currently practising within the industry, it is important those productions and artists be deemed eligible for awards. If, however, a committee member is involved in a show the Lead Judge will ensure they leave the room while that show is being discussed, assessed and voted on. And they cannot, of course, ever vote for themselves or any production they are associated with. Alternatively, judges may, if they choose, disqualify themselves from nomination. The agency is with the individual judges to choose whether they want to be eligible and the transparent voting formula ensures the integrity of the process.
Each member of the Judging Committee who is currently a practising artist will make their own decision regarding eligibility for themselves to be considered for awards. We acknowledge each artist is at a unique position and time in their career and respect this is a personal choice for each judge, based on a number of factors. Personally, now that I have been appointed to the leadership position of Lead Judge for the Judging Committee (whereas I was formerly a committee member), I have chosen to exercise my agency by disqualifying myself from eligibility. I have the utmost confidence that the process is rigorous, unbiased and fair, but I don’t want to bring this leadership role into question in any way. It is an honour to assume this role and I am passionate about the integrity, rigour and excellence of the awards and take the job of overseeing the process very seriously.
Another key issue being discussed is the eligibility of artists who do not reside in Queensland but are originally from Queensland or have resided here at some stage. This issue is currently under discussion within the Judging Committee and the Executive. We’ll keep you in the loop as this issue is clarified.
Checking Registration and Eligibility
The last key issue we’ve been discussing is the process of registration and checking eligibility. As you know, artists are asked to register their productions at least 6 weeks before opening night. This allows the committee enough time to coordinate diaries and commitments and to gather a quorum for shows. Currently our reach includes Brisbane, Gold Coast, Sunshine Coast, Ipswich and Toowoomba. The quorum is 5 committee members for shows in Brisbane and 4 committee members for shows on the Gold Coast, Sunshine Coast, Ipswich and Toowoomba. Once shows have been registered the Lead Judge checks eligibility with the companies. In order for a show to be eligible the artists must be professional or equivalent. This means they have worked professionally in the past, have future professional gigs lined up and/or are members of MEAA and/or have trained at a recognised training institution. Community and amateur projects are not considered. We do encourage companies to use a MEAA co-op agreement or equivalent, but this is not compulsory. Once eligibility has been confirmed committee members liaise directly with the smaller companies to organise tickets. The larger companies organise tickets through the Lead Judge. So, if you receive a message requesting clarification of eligibility, rest assured that this is standard practice.
We have also started reaching out to shows that haven’t registered and reminding people to do so. We have had a couple of instances of shows registering late and therefore not being eligible and we are keen to avoid this happening in the future. Again, if we don’t reach out to you it doesn’t mean anything except that we are not aware of your show. Please tap each other on the shoulder and remind each other to register. It’s timely to remind ourselves that the role of the Matilda Awards is to celebrate, recognise and promote the excellence of Queensland’s theatre industry. Our job is to view as much theatre as we can so please get those registrations in on time. We’d hate to miss your show.
That’s it for now. We hope we have provided useful information for you that clarifies a number of issues. If you have any concerns or queries do not hesitate to make contact via the Matilda website. We love to get your feedback so please don’t hesitate to bring it to us.
Look forward to seeing you at the theatre.
on behalf of the Matilda Judging Committee.