Harolds 2.0

Harolds 2.0

In 2015, Aislinn Rose gave made me a Haroldee, and also distributed embarrassing pictures of old headshots. Well done Aislinn.

The first time I went to The Harold Awards, I knew I had found my people.

I had been running The Praxis Blog (as it was known in the late OOs), and I think it is fair to say that the overall vibe of the site was in opposition to the mainstream theatre superstructure. We used the word “Fuck” regularly, wrote posts about how Luminato got all their funding through businessmen who had inappropriate connections with elites, and devoted our coverage to the exploding largely unpaid but exciting performance scene in Toronto.

The Harold Awards seemed to be a physical manifestation of this ethos. Unlike so many of the theatre events I had attended, The Harolds seemed hardwired to oppose the status quo. Swearing: Check. Disdain for value-affirming theatre: Check. Mad respect for artists that aren’t mainstream and all the other people that are required to create theatre from stage managers to volunteers: Check.

What kind of amazing Anarcho-Communists were funding this enterprise –and why hadn’t I heard about them before?

My entire context of who Harold Kandel was comes from attending The Harold Awards. I wasn’t around during the years he would heckle and comment upon the shows as they played. I imagine as a performer, I would have found him pretty annoying. When you are used to an audience that experiences your performance passively (and if you don’t, a critic will devote an entire post to tell you why you are a “Clod”) it would likely be a challenge for many to have that one show where the old guy in the front row was keeping a running commentary.

As a director, I like to think I would have been less pissed off. I find when I watch something I have directed in the middle of a run, I enjoy those moments where I can tell the audience is actively engaged – that the nature of an event being live is having an impact. A big question I try to answer about a show before I decide to direct it is “Why does it need to be theatre?” Could this just as easily be told as a novel or a film or whatever? If I can find a compelling answer to why it must be live – then that is usually my way in.

For better or for worse, certainly any show that Harold attended was “live”.

Avec Robin Fulford from Platform 9. Never got the Ken McDougall Award – but I did get a Harold and my pic with Robin so stop whining Mike.

I think, if I’m being brutally honest with myself, I started going back each year because I was hoping to win the Ken McDougall Award for an emerging director. Unlike the other awards passed on by last year’s winners to new ones, this award, given out by Buddies, Passe Muraille and Platform 9, comes with $1000 cash. Eventually, I realized I was no longer emerging and that the game was up. But at that point I was hooked. A quick search of the “Harold Awards” tag on praxistheatre.com reveals annual NEVER MISS THE HAROLDS blog posts.

Lately though, the Harolds have been getting me down – the attendance has been smaller, the audience has been less drunk, and the heckling has been non-existent. This is problematic for a number of reasons:

1 – One of my favourite things about The Harolds is all of the trickery that goes into giving out the awards. Ideally, Haroldees don’t even know they are going to receive one. A multiplicity of devious plans are afoot to get unsuspecting Haroldees there that night – and TBH – it only really works if there are other people there that aren’t going to win shit.

2 – Come on people – let down your hair a little! This is one of the other points of the awards I think. That prim and proper will do for opening nights, industry events, and other awards – but the true spirit of independent theatre is wild and problematic. Let’s fucking do this!

3 – There is a changing of the guard going on. Most of the people organizing this year’s awards never met Harold. The awards are no longer about remembering Harold; now they are about promoting an attitude and ethos. I suspect he would probably be pretty damn happy that they have clung to survival this far. Whether this continues to be the case means involving a whole new generation of problem-causers and rabble-rousers. Which there are many of now – maybe even more than when the awards were started. An explosion of indie work has occurred concurrently with The Harolds ,and there is a bigger opposition to the mainstream than ever before. This is partially because the artist/producer revolution means fewer projects have to be green-lighted by an institution – and partially because the majority of our financially healthy theatres are supported by subscription bases that are older, richer, and whiter than the median. Are The Harolds not a perfect place for independent artists to celebrate according to their own value system?

As I write this, I am doing my best not move over into my browser to watch the Dora Nominations come in as they are live-blogged on Intermission. So far, I have flipped over twice – anyhow, I want to acknowledge that even though most of us (probably everyone who doesn’t have one yet) would like to be nominated – I really love that there’s also an evening where, AS A RULE, you are boo’d for mentioning The Doras. I further love that TAPA Executive Director Jacoba Knaapen herself will enforce this rule. Recognition of our peers is important – The Harolds reinforce that keeping it real is more important.

This year, The Harold Awards are on Monday June 6 at The Cadillac Lounge. I am so Goddamn into them I’m gonna have to miss a Playoff Game of my house league basketball team to be part of it. We are undefeated and I am catching a lot of flack for this, but that’s the way it goes because NEVER MISS THE HAROLDS MOTHERFUCKERS.



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About the Author

Michael is Artistic Director of SpiderWebShow, which he co-created with Creative Catalyst Sarah Garton Stanley. He was previously Executive Director and Transformation Designer of Generator, where he led the transition from a fee-for-service model named STAF, to the current capacity-building model it operates on. Since 2003, he has run Toronto-based Praxis Theatre, with which he has directed 14 plays and curated several festivals while writing for and running performance-based websites. He teaches regularly at The National Theatre School and Queen's University, where SpiderWebShow is currently in residence.