[FESTIVAL NEWS]The Standard Bank Ovation Awards have become one of the most important indicators of a performance’s quality for the public. Recipients of the award benefit from extended tours, international opportunities to perform, and increased opportunities for funding.

Cue newspaper’s Steve Kromberg sits down with the National Arts Festival’s Artistic Director Ismail Mahomed to find out about the process behind the Ovation Awards.

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Q. Who decides on the awards?

A. The judging panel includes industry professionals and arts journalists who share the Festival’s vision that excellent productions that are awarded can benefit from the recognition that the award brings. Members of the panel are chosen on the basis of their skill sets, their knowledge of the genre, their experience of the arts both nationally and internationally, their passion to celebrate excellence, and their integrity to endorse excellence when they recognise it.

Q: We know who was on the panel last year. Who’s still there and who’s been replaced?

Members of the jury review productions anonymously. The names of the jury are revealed at the Awards event on the last Sunday of the Festival. 

Q: Does the jury use any specific criteria?

Members of the jury who review productions consider the production values of the production: lighting, sound, costuming, staging, etc. Jury members consider the effectiveness, relevance and innovation used to integrate all these elements to create an excellent production. Strong consideration is given to the quality of the script, the subject matter, and the development of characters. The quality of acting and directing is crucial in how it impacts on the success of a production. Because members of the jury come from such diverse backgrounds, their responses to these criteria are engaged with intensely before final decisions are made. The members of the jury work independently and their decisions are not influenced by the Festival.

Q: How does the process work? What happens after a panellist recommends a production?

Every eligible show is shortlisted for reviewing. A nominated production is reviewed by a second panellist to verify. The first nominator’s opinion is also tested against a number of other factors such as audience response and reviews written in the print and digital media. Discussions between the jury are fierce, intense, passionate and critical. It never loses focus about the objective of the Awards.

Q: Do artists win prizes or is it about the recognition?

Artists who win Silver and Gold Awards receive modest monetary incentives. The benefits that accrue to companies or artists from winning the award grant recognition spin-offs, which includes an invitation to submit a proposal for the following year’s Arena programme.

Q: Are there a predetermined number of awards?

The number of Awards announced each day depends on the number of gems that the jury will unearth in a day.

Q: If a show has won an award, what can a Festival-goer bank on?

Audiences can expect that Ovation Award winning productions are endorsed by a panel of professionals. Sometimes, audience members may disagree with the choices made by the jury. We encourage the debate. We believe the discussion is healthy for the growth of the arts sector. Even though disagreements may sometimes arise, in the majority of cases the Award is seen as some kind of a reliable benchmark by visiting producers, presenters, managements and even audiences.