There are around 30 Offies awards which recognise the creativity of OffWestEnd theatres and other venues – plus 9 Offies People’s Awards for OffWestEnd venues themselves, voted for by the public. This webpage provides, firstly, a summary of all awards, and secondly, some brief notes as to what each award is looking for.
THE AWARDS IN SUMMARY
There are two main eligibility criteria for most Offies awards:
- shows with at least 9 performances over at least 3 weeks – these are the FULL RUN awards
- shows with fewer than 9 performances over 3 weeks, but with at least 4 performances – these are SHORT RUN awards
In addition, there are some awards where the show may be either a full or short run – these are the FREE RUN awards.
FULL RUN awards – for these awards, any play or musical with a minimum of 9 performances over 3 weeks is eligible. There FULL RUN award categories below.
- For plays or musicals: Director / Choreographer
- Design for plays or musicals: Set / Costume / Sound / Lighting / Video
- For plays and musicals: Male / Female Performance in a Leading / Supporting Role / Performance Ensemble
- For plays only: Most Promising New Playwright / New Play / Company Ensemble / Production
- For musicals only: Musical Director / New Musical / Musical Production
SHORT RUN awards:
- The IDEA award – for Immersive, Devised, Experiential or Atypical productions (formerly the TBC award)
- The OPERA award – for operas, rather than musicals
There are ongoing discussions about new Short Run categories in the future – click here for more information.
FREE RUN awards:
- The PERFORMANCE PIECE award – for (usually) solo shows written and presented by an individual
- The YPT awards – for productions aimed at Young People, with three age divisions: 0-7, 8+ and 13+
For these awards, the length of run may vary considerably from show to show – however, a minimum of 4 performances over 4 days is required.
BRIEF NOTES ON THE AWARD CATEGORIES
FULL RUN AWARDS
The “full run” awards are for plays or musicals which have a run of at least 9 performances over at least 3 weeks.
This covers the following:
- Male Performance in a Play or Musical
- Female Performance in a Play or Musical
- Male Performance in a Supporting Role in a Play or Musical
- Female Performance in a Supporting Role in a Play or Musical
- Performance Ensemble
Assessors are looking for outstanding performances within one of these categories. Though it is not impossible, it is rare that there will be more than one nomination in the same show in any of these categories.
IN A MUSICAL
A character may not be all singing all dancing – the show may omit dancing entirely, or have simple, mid range songs for the character – but the actor must be exceptional in all the skills their role requires. It has become quite common for “off west end” musicals to double up by casting actor/musos instead of separate musicians. Although playing an instrument well requires skills and technique, and while this is an excellent skill to have, it cannot be instead of a well trained voice or dance skills.
PERFORMANCE IN A SUPPORTING ROLE
A ‘supporting’ character supports the main story in their performance.
This recognises an ensemble of performers where it is more appropriate to recognise the achievements of the performers working as a group.
Note that this category covers both plays and musicals.
A well-directed show will have a clearly established frame within which the play can develop. Certain things should be a given. For instance, being able to hear and see the actors (the placing of actors in the space mentioned above) is, on its own, not a reason for praise: it should be a given. Identifying what makes directing not merely competent or even good, but excellent, is more difficult to grasp, but certain things can be singled out. On a general level, it’s important to see whether the consistent overall vision is appropriate for the text, whether it’s illuminating, possibly even original.
AWARDS FOR PLAYS ONLY
The play should be new to London.
We are looking for not just a good play but a great play. There are many good plays, but very, very few great plays – plays with the weight and substance to compare with the best plays ever written. Remember that winners of this award in the past have included some of our greatest playwrights of recent years – and the New Play must be able to stand comfortably in their company.
You should come out of the performance not simply admiring the skill of the play, but with the certainty that it has given you a profound experience. In other words, it needs more than clever dialogue and arresting characters or even a fascinating theme. Individual elements of excellence are not enough. It needs to combine all these to create a memorable whole, a whole which shakes your emotions and perceptions deeply. It is a play which changes you.
MOST PROMISING NEW PLAYWRIGHT
The playwright must be genuinely new. The point of the award is encourage the next generation.
So we are looking for a fresh vision, a playwright who genuinely excites and surprises or delights. It’s the surprise element which is often key. You want that “Wow, yes!” feeling. And the sense that you really, really want to see what the playwright comes up with next.
Although we’re talking about ‘promising’ playwrights, the level of accomplishment needs to be already very high. So characters need to be fully-rounded and believable and scenes need to be concise, and dialogue sharp. The writing needs to be taut and well-honed. That means that every line needs to have a purpose in driving the story forward. The story needs to be well constructed, without redundant scenes – constructed so that you can actually see how elegantly put together it is.
Currently, the essence of this category is that the whole company should have worked brilliantly together to create the production. It will not rely on any solo voices or individual performances, but will demonstrate collaboration and creativity amongst the whole company. This may have been done in various ways – for instance:
- the company wrote or devised the show collectively;
- the cast play multiple parts;
- cast members contribute in other ways, such as making music, pictures or text, constructing the set or engaging in distinctive physical movement;
- there is usually no lead character / the cast members have equal status; although sometimes there may be a unifying or co-ordinating narrator;
- there are significant elements of unison, or highly co-ordinated performance.
Ideally several of these components will be evident in the production, not just one, and the company will identify this in its self-description. No show with less than three cast members will be considered for this award.
“Best Production” is something that people have on occasion found difficult to grasp, but it is NO different from “Best Picture” at film awards. The feeling you should be coming out of the theatre with is the same when you come out of the cinema and you think you’ve possibly seen the best film of the year.
A ”best production” nomination will be more than the sum of its parts. In a Best Production, its individual components are in relationship with each other: they can echo, reinforce, sometimes deliberately contradict each other.
AWARDS FOR MUSICALS ONLY
This award considers the show in respect of the following:
- Its underlying story or narrative (often referred to as the Book)
- The quality of the lyrics
- The quality of the score
- The quality of the acting performances
- The quality of the other creatives
- The WOW factor
It must be new to London – even if it is a Broadway import that is 20 years old but is now having its London premiere
We are looking for the criteria outlined above, and also for evidence of fine new writing that really impresses, but that may still contains some rough edges, perhaps to its book or song list. Such flaws would clearly exclude it from being a Best Musical Production, but if the writers and creatives are truly on to “something special” then it may well be a worthy contender for this category.
This nomination recognises the excellence of the person waving the baton in the pit (or out of sight somewhere) and again it’s a subjective call.
The role of the MD is not just to conduct the band – it is to provide an interface between the musicians and the actors – making sure that the music follows (or leads) the action as appropriate, at all times being in tune with the flow of the show. Each performance is of course unique, throwing up countless timing and production issues that should be undetectable to the audience.
A good MD will make the score flow effortlessly keeping the band and cast coupled in perfect creative harmony.
AWARDS FOR CREATIVITY & DESIGN
Note that these categories cover both plays and musicals.
Good lighting design has some key roles:
- Creating the overall mood for the production
- Lighting the eyes and faces of performers (allowing the audience to connect)
- Shaping the performance space
- Helping to tell the story
- Creating significant symbols that add relevance to the performance itself
GREAT lighting design should create inherent drama over and above these basic expectations and add convincing value and visual experience to the story and production. Above all, there should be an inherent power and intensity that takes the audiences away from everyday life and places them in the moment.
This category concerns the presentation of music, sound effects, voice overs, atmospheric sound, both diegetic (emitting from the action – e.g. a radio being turned on and played by a character, birdsong in an outdoor scene) and non-diegetic (live supporting or background music/ electronic Sound FX to add ‘atmosphere’ or dramatic tension perhaps, not stemming directly from the action).
Sound design can be more relevant to plays than musicals, though a musical may be nominated in this category if their sound design effectively balances the voices and the music so that the performers, singers and lyrics can be heard clearly and distinctly alongside the music.
[to be added]
London’s OffWestEnd is ripe with challenges for Set Designers. Unlike the neat, custom-built houses of Shaftesbury Avenue, all kitted out and ready to play, OffWestEnd venues come in all shapes and sizes, and are often tucked into spaces designed for very different original uses. To be even considered for recognition, a good set should transport the audience from the pub theatre / converted church / corrugated iron pop-up, and into an entirely new world. This world can be historically faithful or imaginatively evocative.
Costume is a consistent element of the production as a whole and, along with the set, often provides the most immediate indication of the directorial concept. The costume can anchor the production in a particular time or place – though it may deliberately seek to obscure when or where the production is set.
Choreographed elements of an OffWestEnd production may apply to the overall movement of a show and / or the more obvious basic structure of a dance number in a musical. The best choreographers, whether providing a framework for complex scene changes or a traditional chorus line, will have considered how dance, and movement, power the story being told.
SHORT RUN AWARDS
These awards are for shows that run for less than 3 weeks – though a minimum of 4 performances (on 4 different days) is necessary.
IDEA PRODUCTION – Innovative / Devised / Experiential / Atypical
The IDEA Award covers shows which defy ordinary categorisation. IDEA shows are not plays, musicals, operas, dance, circus, caberets or revues – but can contain elements of any of these genres. IDEA shows challenge traditional performance expectations, and push the boundaries of what theatre can do in terms of content, narrative, creation and execution. If your show takes place in an unusual location, plays with the role of the audience, or deconstructs any of the standard elements of theatre, then there’s a good chance it qualifies as IDEA.
In an ideal world, the best opera productions are those which combine all the ingredients of theatre and music to create something unique and moving and where the reduction of size and cutting of the piece does not affect the overall pleasure and enjoyment of the production. It is most likely that the operas will be the well-known ones which are then adapted for a smaller space.
FREE RUN AWARDS
Though most shows eligible for these awards are “short run” (which can be as few as 4 performances), some will be “full run” (at least 9 performances over 3 weeks) – so these are grouped as “free run”.
This is an entirely new award which recognises an exciting new and emerging genre. The Performance Piece should:
- Involve just one, two or very exceptionally three performers
- Be an original piece
- Be written and performed by the same person/persons (or in very close collaboration).
- Be addressed directly to the audience, removing the fourth wall, and perhaps engage with the audience.
- Share characteristics with spoken word, performance poetry and stand-up comedy, slam theatre, gig theatre
- Be scripted, even if the script is fluid
It should not:
- Be heavily set and space dependent – it could, in theory, be a performance in a back room with no set, just props and sound
- Be a traditional character monologue or solo play
- Leave the audience merely as spectator
The award for this piece can consider:
- Short pieces. Ideally 10-15 minutes minimum
- Several short pieces by the same performer as part of a short season or single evening
- Pieces presented beyond conventional theatre spaces
This is a new kind of award and new genre so there are no hard and fast rules yet. So these guidelines may change as it develops.
PRODUCTIONS FOR YOUNG PEOPLE
These awards are for shows for (i.e. aimed at) young people – and not for productions by young people. These awards are a little simpler than the adult categories, as there no individual nominations for best director, actor etc. – there is just an overall production winner in 3 categories:
- Best Production for Young People 0-7, and
- Best Production for Young People age 8+
- Best Production for Young People age 13+
The assessors are looking for something that is truly outstanding. The script, staging, acting, and concept need to be in some way exciting, original and fill you with a feeling of magic.
It’s not enough that “at least the children liked it”. Great theatre will totally engage you, no matter what age you are. Fairytales are always being reworked, and so are not entirely original, however, the way the story has been told, a sudden twist in the narrative, a thrill of something truly beautiful, will also count towards a nomination.
News & information on OffWestEnd theatres and their productions can be found at www.offwestend.com