Chicago Comedian Seth Dodson knows he will be hosting the Orgie Theatre Awards on April 19 but is completely in the dark about everything else, including the identities of those planning the event.
Dodson said the anonymous committee that called on him to perform emcee duties communicated through email with vague instructions. He is to go to the site of the ceremony, The Spot, a bar and comedy club at 4437 N. Broadway, where a masked man will silently guide him on stage to confer the awards which the secret society known as the Orgie Theatre Award Committee has been anonymously giving out for six years. The awards honor theater artists from alternative and storefront theaters doing quirky and challenging work.
This is the first public ceremony for the incognito Orgie Committee, which is staking out a very different ground from that of the Joseph Jefferson Awards, which typically recognize traditional theater and classical works. Fifteen awards and three special acknowledgements will be given for acting, playwriting, artistic direction and other categories.
“The decision to have a ceremony was mutually intuitive among the committee,” a member of the committee anonymously stated in an email. “It’s been a bit more work than expected to set it all up, but if it yields some unusual fun, then it’s been worth it. We’re awarding theater artists for taking risks. It seems hypocritical if we don’t sometimes do things in a different way.”
Dodson was chosen to host the event alongside colleague Kellen Alexander because the Orgie Committee liked their “Show ’n Tell Show,” a live late-night talk show about graphic design. He said he was then contacted anonymously through email about the awards.
“Being the Illuminati of Chicago’s underground theater scene is appealing to them for whatever reason,” Dodson said. “I think it’s going to be a really fun event, and I think we should all expect the unexpected because so much of this is unknown to everyone except the Orgie people, whoever they are.”
The group playfully skates around the topic of its identity and makes it clear the awards are all in good fun.
While local awards such as the Jefferson Awards may recognize more traditional work, such as the dramatic ensemble performance of “A Streetcar Named Desire,” the Orgies shed light on the actors involved in avant-garde productions like “Poseidon! An Upside-down Musical.”
Diana Slickman, member of Theater Oobleck, won the Unsung Theater Hero award last year. She said the category would not have been offered in other local theater awards and may not ever be an Orgie Award category again because of the specific parameters of the Orgies.
In past years, the winners received recognition by mail. Last year, Slickman received a certificate, “which was shiny and very satisfying,” along with a $100 bill.
“I did kind of like the sort of personal nature of getting something in the mail,” Slickman said. “It almost let me share in the anonymity of the committee. There’s a guerilla aspect about it I really like, and there’s an underground aspect to it I think is a direct correlation to the way a lot of Chicago theater works and the reason why it works.”
Upon receiving the award, Slickman admitted she spent some time trying to uncover the identities of the mystery
committee.For them to be familiar enough with her work to present her with an award, she said she would have to know them. But after grilling close friends and racking her brain to figure it out, she finally gave up and enjoyed the feeling of receiving recognition.
Daniel Smith, associate artistic director at Caffeine Theater, 1225 W. Belmont Ave., also speculated on the group’s identity in the past. He said it seems like he should know some of those involved, but because of their ability to remain so anonymous, it’s too hard to tell.
The theater is receiving its first award from the committee this year, which Smith said is a welcome acknowledgement after losing in the category of “Outstanding Ensemble” at the Joseph Jefferson Awards last year.
According to Smith, the nature of their shows make them a perfect candidate for what the Orgie Theater Awards are looking for. Caffeine Theater’s shows usually focus on biographies of poets presented in avant-garde ways, such as an opera about “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” author Lewis Carroll.
As the award ceremony draws closer, Dodson and Alexander are taking advantage of the award’s quirky nature and the theaters involved. They’re planning to ruffle some feathers with their jokes, and Dodson said because they’re not directly involved in the theater community, they have nothing to lose. For now, his one hope is that an audience and award recipients actually show up.
“I hope there are people there,” Dodson said. “I can’t tell if there will be because I’m so in the dark about it. I don’t think anyone will have any idea who I am, and I don’t think I’ll know who most of them are, but I think it will be a really fun time.”
The Orgie Theatre Awards will take place on April 19 at The Spot, 4437 N. Broadway. Doors open at 8 p.m., and the ceremony is free and open to the public. For more information on winners or the Orgie Theatre Awards Committee, visit OrgieTheatreAward.com.