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As the wise and witty Myra DuBois pointed out just last week, all awards are a tricky thing. They divide as much as they celebrate and the judges’ choices, both of those on the shortlist and amongst the winners, can sometimes seem arbitrary or controversial.

On Wednesday, the judges of the Excess All Areas London Cabaret Awards will reveal the winners. Last week’s article on the awards caused no small amount of commotion on social media and, if this article only serves to start a conversation about how this still-nascent event evolves, our work here is done.

Disclaimer: This Is Cabaret has been nominated in the Best Newcomer category of this year’s London Cabaret Awards.

5. Best new show (one-off or recurring)

The Awards already include prizes for the Best Ongoing and Best One-Off Productions but where is the recognition for those who have gone out on a limb producing new ways to fill venues? With or without the aid of Groupon-like schemes, 2012 was a particularly tough year for getting paying punters to part with chunks of their ever-diminishing disposable incomes as some established shows found out. Despite this, some of the best productions of recent years have emerged over the last twelve months.

Mat Ricardo’s London Varieties and When Worlds Collide are two excellent new variety nights with very different formats competing with more established shows in the Ongoing Productions category. Mat Fraser’s Sleaze and The Freak And The Showgirl were intense and provocative affairs.

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Audience participation can get unusually interactive at The Freak and the Showgirl dates

Vivacity Bliss’ Cabaret Roulette brings a vibrant and much welcome twist to variety, letting the audience decide the theme of future outings. Burlesquers Lolo Brow and Rubyyy Jones have created new showcases Cabaret Derangium and The Save Rubyyy Jones Revue respectively; both gave grassroots acts a chance to perform in front of one of the toughest crowds in the world, namely a London audience.

We applaud all the new shows which have appeared on London stages and helped make 2012 the most exciting year for cabaret yet. The brave entrepreneurs behind them should be recognised in their own right.
 
 
4. Social Media And Offstage Output

Getting up on stage is not the only way performers make an impact. With so little quality mainstream cabaret coverage beyond ourselves and Time Out, many acts have taken matters into their own hands.

EastEnd Cabaret have done a brilliant job of fleshing out their characters through Facebook and Twitter, Kiki Kaboom starred in a scene-defining Youtube hit, Rubyyy Jones has her own radio show and Frisky and Mannish produce a video blog for Heat.

If onstage antics are worthy of an award, we feel the same should apply to offstage ones too.

 
3. Alp Haydar

While each performer brings something special to the stage, Alp Haydar – winner of the only cabaret award of recent years voted for by the public – is truly different. His brutally hilarious multimedia live shows expertly skewer modern attitudes to race, religion and sexuality. Haydar takes his shows to another level with inventive video scenes and spot-on caricatures like his “mother” Sharia Law and immigration official Sandra.

As well as puttng on many of his own shows like Double Lubrication, Alp Haydar’s New Vagina and Sharia Law, he also found time last year to support his fellow artists at Myra DuBois’s Alive! and the RVT Panto (bringing not one but two characters to the cast) all the while planning his new talent show aboard the Battersea Barge.

We ask: how did such an innovative, provocative and ambitious performer who embodies many of the positive personal and professional qualities of cabaret fly so low under the judges’ radar that he didn’t even deserve a spot on the shortlist?

 

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Contortionist Henna Kaikula balances over broken glass in circus show Cantina

2. Circus

Circus has never been hotter. Since the ban on performing animals, the gap has been filled by a kaleidoscope of vaudeville talent like acrobalancers, aerialists, contortionists, firebreathers, hoop dancers, jugglers, stiltwalkers and trapeze artists. It is now rare to see a variety night without at least one circus performer. We would go so far as to say that in recent years circus has taken cabaret’s image to a new level.

Why then are this broad church denied its own category? True, some have been nominated for the Speciality Act but, taken as a whole, that entire category has a feel of “cabaret miscellany” with no unifying theme amongst those listed. It is time to call circus in from the cold and give it the pedestal it deserves.
 
 
1. The judges

Another year and another question mark over the judging panel’s conflict of interests.

As alluded to by the head of last year’s panel, it’s no secret that winners were decided by something of a hokey-cokey voting process as judges abstained from categories in which they were closely connected to a nominee. It was a first year so we’re inclined to give it a pass but twelve months on, though, and the sophomore shortlist has left some pointing fingers and others rubbing chins. Lisa Lee, one of the 2012 panel, told us that she thought “it might have looked a bit dodge” if an act she was part of walked away with an award. We’re inclined to agree and it’s a shame that at least some of this year’s judges don’t feel the same way.

A case in point is Walt Utz who apparently has no such qualms. One of this year’s judges and the programmer of Madame Jojo’s, his employer is certainly noteworthy for geographical and historical reasons but, beyond that, we’re not sure what it has done over the twelve months to deserve to be shortlisted as Best Venue; in fact, with the loss of the much-missed Bête Noire last March, it has arguably become a weaker proposition overall.

If fringe theatre – a scene similarly characterised by small venues, smaller budgets and minimal media exposure – can assemble a panel of independent judges at their annual awards, why can’t cabaret? If it proves impossible to assemble a handful of people with a wide appreciation of the scene and, most importantly, have had no artistic collaborations or direct financial transactions with any of the nominees, then it makes sense that no nominee should be connected in this way to any of the judges.

While we are not questioning the impartiality of the London Cabaret Award judges, the lack of an independent panel has led to some uncomfortable coincidences which do not reflect well on either those nominated or the scene as a whole. Here’s a question: if Madame Jojo’s is awarded the prize for Best Venue, will Utz have the chutzpah to claim or pose with the award?

Join us on our Twitter feed for live updates from the London Cabaret Awards as we watch the Spiegeltent and video star Charlie Hide battle it out for Best Newcomer.

Photo credits: Sin Bozkurt for The Freak And The Showgirl and Conan Whitehouse for Cantina.