Guidance for Offies Assessors – Special

SPECIAL: IDEA / Opera / TYA

IDEA: Performance / Design / Production

(Innovative / Devised / Experimental / Atypical)

The IDEA award is often described as a theatrical experience that cannot be categorised. It may be more helpful to define the IDEA award by looking at what it is not:

  • It is not a play (although it may have elements which make a play i.e. striking characters, a narrative, etc.).
  • It is not a musical or opera (although there may be musical elements to it). 
  • It is not a dance show (although it may use physical theatre).
  • It is not a cabaret, circus or revue (although it may use this medium as an umbrella for the show).
  • It is also NOT a work in development (unless this is the concept of the piece).

It could

  • be a unique experience for each audience member.
  • be different every night.
  • be multi sensory.
  • be set somewhere unexpected/unusual.
  • be immersive, asking the audience to choose their own path through it.
  • have audience participation.
  • be gender bending.
  • be a digital or physical experience where no actors are involved at all.
  • use mime or puppetry.
  • defy every genre of storytelling.
  • merge an entirely new genre of story/theatre

With all of these ‘it could be’s, remember… it also could not. Confused yet?

The IDEA category breaks boundaries, in content, in narrative – possibly even in creation, but most importantly in its execution. From women dressed as foxes dubbing over videos of Londoners, to backwards nursery rhymes told by a dinosaur puppet in a park, to a silent game show where you are the prize, IDEA is weird and wonderful in every possible way and quite often gives a unique experience to each audience member. It is ALMOST IMPOSSIBLE TO DEFINE, and it is often not one thing that defines it. If you feel the production / experience challenges what you consider to be theatre, and successfully moves or interests you through not what is said, but how it is said and how you experience it, you are probably onto an IDEA.

The shows inspire huge debate within the small dedicated team of IDEA Assessors, who are a group kept separate from the other categories. The team is comprised of theatre-makers, critics, journalists and editors where the debates are often academic and analytical. 

Our IDEA shows are very rarely found in West End or in larger venues (there are some exceptions; the Southbank centre in particular, as well as the National and the Barbican have been known to host these shows). Out of all the categories IDEA encapsulates everything great about Off West End; The opportunity to allow creatives to push the boundaries, be daring and try something a bit different that hasn’t been done before.

As one assessor once said:

“It’s our mission to recognise performance that provides a rewarding and challenging “alternative night out”, and by god we shall!” I may paraphrase…

Example winners 

HUG: The audience are blindfolded are hugged by members of the cast – all singing, creating a multi sensory experience through the sounds of the voices, the vibrations of the bodies in song and the closeness of a stranger in a cold city.

YOUARENOWHERE: Described as a ‘rapid-fire existential meditation … blend (ing) physics lecture and pop culture to create a sensory overload…’ Youarenowhere refuses definition even in title. The key here forcing the audience to question their place in time, space and the universe. 

OPERA: Performance / Design / Production

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. There are some companies producing new work and they are possibly easier to assess because they will come with no operatic baggage. I think the most important points to be considered are:

  • Musical standards: these can vary enormously but as it is opera it is important to take these into account from the start. This doesn’t mean that every singer has to be superb – they will be young and at the beginning of their careers – but if it is hand over ears time then probably not worthy of an award. The same applies for the accompaniment – this can be a small ensemble or a piano, or piano plus another instrument or two. Whatever it is must be done well technically and musically, and be at one with the singers.
  • Production: it is a challenge for any director to put on an opera in a small place and for the whole thing to hang together satisfactorily. Everything that makes up a good theatrical experience of course applies to opera as well: the set, costumes, design and lighting. Productions can be updated with modern dress, or a mixture of old and new but whichever combination is chosen it should ring true and be consistent throughout in a way that tells the story, and allows the music to do its stuff and communicate.
  • The “wow” factor: when asked me to do some opera assessing an assessor was advised that only those with the “wow” factor should be recommended for an Offie Award. The assessor felt that this was a good bit of advice to follow. “Worthy” isn’t good enough!

TYA: Production

(Theatre for Young Audiences)

The TYA Offies category is 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 we don’t nominate best director, actor etc. but just have an overall production winner. As we have had so many great plays to see, we decided to divide this into:

  • Best Production for Young People 0-7, and
  • Best Production for Young People age 8+
  • Best Production for Young People age 13+

We hope you enjoy all the plays you see but in order for it to be nominated we are really after 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 for you to sit there rather bored, thinking 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.

For this category, you must do a review within 48 hours of seeing the production. If you want to nominate it you must explain why you thought it was exceptional, as your review will be read out at the end of the year when we look for a final winner. A super-assessor will go and see the production.

If you don’t want to nominate it, a few lines explaining why will suffice. We hope you’ll be available to see at least 6 shows a year, hopefully more, so that you have enough to compare it with.

At first it may feel a little awkward nominating a play when you haven’t yet had another to compare it with, but the reason we do this is to help the publicity of the really good shows, while they are still on. After you’ve been reviewing a while it becomes more self-evident.