There’s always a buzz in the air at this time of year as much of the theatre world looks forward to the annual OFFIE Awards. This year’s results are out and Broadway Baby would like to congratulate all the nominees and winners. In particular we were thrilled to see Bobby Award winner 1902 by Nathan Scott Dunn for Saltire Sky Theatre at Leith Arches win the OFFEST Award for Live performance at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
Spotlight on the vast range of theatre that exists on people’s doorsteps
So how did it all begin? OffWestEnd.com was the inspiration of Sofie Mason, an independent fundraiser for the arts, and Kevin Nicholas, a marketing consultant specialising in the travel and leisure sector. They were assisted in the ground-breaking venture by arts consultant, Diana Jervis-Read. Together they launched a site that listed over 100 independent theatres in one place for the first time. The aim was to ‘celebrate the full spectrum of Off West End theatres and to draw increasing numbers of the general public into the heady darkness and dangerous passion of these little powerhouses perched above a pub, tucked under a railway bridge, packed into a disused warehouse, built around a butcher’s shop or suspended above a shopping centre’.
That was in 2006. Four years later they decided it was time to go one stage further and recognise the achievements of practitioners at those venues. It was an attempt to redress the balance between all the attention given to blockbuster shows, big plays and famous actors in the West End and put the spotlight on the vast range of theatre that exists on people’s doorsteps and the wealth of talent that can be seen in neighbourhood theatres. The Offies (The Off West End Theatre Awards) became the means of doing that.
The vision of the founders has been extended further in recent years. Two years after taking over OffWestEnd in 2017, Geoffrey Brown created OffFest. Originally designed for the Camden Fringe, the Offies Commendation is awarded to shows at theatre festivals, or theatre shows at general arts festivals. OffFest now covers Voila! Europe, Greater Manchester Fringe, Edinburgh Fringe, Footprints Festival at the Jermyn Street Theatre London, Brighton Fringe and the Living Record Festival (Feb 2021). The same year saw the introduction of OffComm as the ‘Offies Commendation which aims to recognise the excellence of both short-run shows at OffWestEnd venues and independent theatre outside London. Two years later the OffComm for shows in Greater Manchester was launched. There is also The OneOff, a special award that recognises outstanding achievements in independent, fringe & alternative theatre, and The Offies People’s Vote, for audiences to recognise their favourite theatre venue.
The recent pandemic introduced a wave of new theatre. With a range of media outlets, it became possible to stream shows to audiences around the world and to write material specifically for live broadcast or for recording for later transmission. Existing plays were also subject to adaptation for performance in what became a new genre of theatre. In response, OnComm was introduced in May 2020 as the Offies Commendation for online shows. The aim was ‘to recognise the excellence of shows from independent, alternative and fringe theatres that are being presented online’.
With normality returning, the 2023 Awards ceremony should once more become a live event and an evening of celebration for people to get together. In the meantime, review magazines will be out and about suggesting nominees and the Offie assessors will be doing the rounds checking out the very best of theatre.
For more information about the Offies, nominations and Award winners visit: https://offies.london/