The Fourth Annual Sage Awards went off without a hitch. Co-presented by the Minnesota Sage Awards and the Walker Art Center, the ceremony was held in the McGuire Theater and emceed by Donald LaCourse of Ethnic Dance Theater fame with opening remarks by the lovely Caroline Palmer. We were introduced to this year’s panel and given an overview of their process. Apparently, this year’s panel didn’t agree easily on anything, establishing a record for the longest final deliberation meeting–7 hours. This season held a variety of award-worthy candidates. Since the focus of this article is on the Sage Awards itself, I will bid you to go to the website sageawards.org to find out details on the winners. A special congratulations to all the nominees and winners.
I enjoyed the straight-ahead, no-nonsense ceremony: the live music, the brief performances, the to-the-point remarks from both the award presenters and awardees. Last year, I went to the Bessies in New York at the Joyce Theater. While Justin Bond and Taylor Mac (the emcees) were hilarious and “over-the-top” in the best way, the whole event lasted 2 ½ hours and I left stiff and sore from too much sitting. The Sages clocked in at a smooth hour and half. As I floated around the after-party in the Skyline Room, catching glimpses of the celebrants, I decided to ask my colleagues “what did you think of the Sages this year? And what do you think of the Sages in general?” In fact, I’ve been asking these questions to my colleagues since I was on the panel last year. I would love to take a moment to share my findings.
This dance community is comprised of a variety of artists, critics and philanthropists with a range of opinions. So it comes as no surprise that the Sages, as an event itself, is a hot topic of debate. Some love the opportunity to mingle with the community, to catch up with old friends, no matter the situation. Others like to watch their comrades get tipsy. Some love the Sage Awards because they like to see their colleagues acknowledged publicly, and in the case of Mad King Thomas, use it as a platform to shout out to their mentors. Others will not give it the time of day because it is too small potatoes, not east/west coast enough, not a real red carpet affair. They’d rather rehearse or have family time, even if they are nominated for an award. Some blow it off because they think it’s Stuart Pimsler’s pet project or because they think it’s “insidery.”
I found that some of my colleagues felt a little deflated by this year’s event, saying it was too dry and lacking of the personal charm of past Sage events. It turns out that some felt a little lost in the McGuire Theater and at the after-party. They couldn’t find “their people” and felt alone. Even though I don’t like the Skyline Room, I enjoyed having space during the after-party, unlike the crowded Ritz lobby last year. Space as you know, heightens our kinesthetic senses and makes us feel like moving!!! What could be better? I could scan the room and see the animated conversations. I could float like the social butterfly that I truly am and not commit to any one group. I could secretly check out people’s outfits. (Yes, the Sages is an opportunity to pull out and don your outrageous garb.) Of note was Suzanne Costello’s golden evening dress. Wow. As far as the overall environment is concerned, some wanted the Sages to be more raucous, more cabaret-like, more sweaty and sexy. It turns out that some were highly annoyed by the fact that they had to wait in line all night for a cocktail. Some want free drinks and food (like last year). Others don’t want to have to pay for a community event, especially if they are nominated for an award. They question not only the economics, but whether the Sage’s is really a community event.
The McKnight Foundation provides the money for this event. Stuart Pimsler Dance Theater organizes the affair and decides how to spend the money. They give it to the panelists, the administrators, the entertainment (the performers at the ceremony), and the visual artists who make the actual, physical awards. It covers the costs of publicity, the ceremony and party essentials like space rental, flowers and food. In fact, it seems that everyone involved in the Sage Awards gets paid except the awardees. I’d love to see this change. I say, why not give the winners a little something too? (The Bessie Awards includes a $1000 stipend for “Best Performance”.) An honorarium of $100 would be significant, even in today’s economic climate. Some might argue that money would make the Awards more competitive. I say, they already are–especially when nominees are announced in advance, which is meant to draw the candidates and the curious to the event. Also, let’s go back to the free food and drinks. I know this generates more administrative work, but the money that was given to Wolfgang Puck at the Walker could be allocated to an individual to organize volunteers and donations.
And what about the ticket price of the event? Let’s face it, some of us really have to pick and choose what we do with our money from week to week. We just don’t have the cash flow of 9-5’ers. I know of two nominees who mentioned that they did not want to pay the $12 ticket price for the event. In fact, one nominee, who is financially challenged at the moment, attended at the last minute only because her friend bought her a ticket. Paying $12 for a ticket and then $16 for two drinks means that this event is a $28 expense. What about a pay-as-you-can Sage Award Ceremony? That would alleviate the financial pressure for the financially strained, providing a fluid structure that supports the entire community. With the involvement of volunteers, then we really have a community event, because the shaping of the event is accessible to all. Still, some will get paid for their work and some won’t. But, if you want to be a part of the event, then you can be. If you don’t want to be, then you either pay for your ticket, or stay home.
I just want to say that I support the Sage Awards–and the controversy that surrounds it.
I want these conversations to continue, and I want to encourage people to give voice to their criticisms as well as their salutations, congratulations and compliments. As Suzanne Costello said so eloquently and passionately at the ceremony (and I paraphrase badly here), “let’s hold up a mirror to what we see going on around us.” I want to ride the wave of her invitation and invite you to do the same. I think the Sage Awards has the power to reflect the strength and courage of the consortium of artists in our midst. Go forth, speak, make art and continue make and break the rules; and i will see you next year and the Sages.