On the day itself, however, after I’ve written my own speech notes, checked the projection slides, fielded cancellations and the like, there’s actually not too much for me to do except sit back and enjoy the technical rehearsals, marvelling at the talent onstage and off and the general hive of activity around me – and, in years past, worrying.
My lack of worry this year is a luxury gained thanks to an incredible team of dedicated people, many of whom have worked on several Whatsonstage.com Awards. I know now I can leave it to the professionals, on the production side, on the event organisation side, on the publicity side, on the theatre side (a lot of sides!), and trust that all is in hand. Even when things go wrong.
And, I can now tell you, there were – as every year – lots of last-minute hiccoughs. Amongst them... Departure Lounge’s Chris Fountain had to pull out on the day due to sickness - producer Andy Barnes managed to rapidly recruit Luke Kempner, who performed in an early version of the show several years ago in Edinburgh and changed his weekend plans to step in. The Umbrellas of Cherbourg company got trapped in the lift at their hotel, having come down specially from Leicester, where the show is currently running pre-West End.
And poor Sheridan Smith was near collapse during the tech with an ailment that really should have seen her in hospital rather than hosting an awards ceremony. A dose of Dr Theatre, a glass of champagne and an incredible determination got her through the night – hats off to Sheridan! Then there was the very big West End star (who I won’t name) who showed up five minutes before curtain-up having not RSVPd and there being not a seat left in the house for him (we did manage to get him in thankfully).
Still, not worried. And then the Whatsonstage.com website went down on Sunday afternoon. As the techies were on it immediately, I was happily leaving it to the professionals there too, but my calm began to crumble as promises that we’d be back online in another 20, another 30, another 40 minutes were dashed. About 4pm, I was told the really bad news: the downtime was due to a massive failure at the company that hosts our web servers and the damage, caused by an external attack, was extensive. They could no longer give us an estimate of when we’d be back in business, but it was likely to be Monday at the earliest...
I couldn’t quite believe the timing. And as it sunk in that, after months of work, we’d be out of commission on our big night – and I saw the disappointment on my colleagues’ faces - I felt sick.
I should have kept faith in the pros. Through a minor miracle, those valiant techies got us back online about 5.30pm, just half an hour before the doors opened for VIP arrivals, and my deputy editor Andrew Girvan and a team of tweeters sprang into action to keep those following the action at home in the loop with all the awards action. (Though other technical problems on the night meant we weren’t able to get video and photos out as quickly as we’d hoped.)
Achievements, lessons, memorable moments
Despite being offline for most of the afternoon, on Sunday, we generated record traffic to Whatsonstage.com and, in our first properly social media-friendly Awards Concert (I actually invited the audience at the Prince of Wales to turn on their mobile phones – on silent, of course), we had thousands of people following us via Twitter and the awards site, all using the #wosawards hashtag. By the end of the event on Sunday night, the awards had become one of the top three trending topics in the country! That’s a major achievement.
There were lessons learned too – not least, we hear you loud and clear, you don’t want us to publish the full awards results until they’ve all been announced on stage. We love that you love the suspense and are happy to oblige next year. And we are doing our very best to ensure that you’ll be able to watch the event next year, even if you’re not quick enough to buy a ticket.
As with most years, the Awards Concert goes by in a bit of a blur for me, running on and off-stage and, flitting between duties backstage, in the press room, the foyer and the guests’ reception area, trying to say hello to everyone and never managing to have a conversation longer than about 20 seconds.
From the wings, and with my running around, I actually miss an awful lot of the good stuff on stage. (I’ve just now been able to watch all the acceptance speeches on our video replay – which will be on the website later today – some are priceless!) But, from my point of view of the evening, a few favourite moments are: the throng outside the theatre; stopping traffic for Zoe Wanamaker’s car; presenting the night’s first award to Meera Syal; Craig Revel Horwood’s dissing of Biggins’ sparkly jacket; Miranda Hart’s demonstration of bowing techniques; Caissie Levy’s performance of “With You” from Ghost; my winning one of the raffle prizes (and then giving it back to be redrawn); the roar that went up in the auditorium when they realised that Cameron Mackintosh was there in person to collect the first Les Miserables award; the second roar when Cameron re-emerged from the wings with Alfie Boe; the sight of Sheridan Smith and others huddled around in the wings, refusing to go to the press room right away as they were so enthralled by Boe’s performance of “Bring Him Home”; Ramin Karimloo’s sincere amazement at the fuss being made over him (so modest!); Steven Webb telling me how much it meant to him to perform at the Whatsonstage.com Awards (and apparently, I’m a “legend” – thanks, Stevie); and Departure Lounge writer Dougal Irvine asking if he could pen a Whatsonstage.com theme song (how cool would that be?!).
My biggest disappointment is that, no matter, how hard I try, there is no way for me to personally thank all the people who make the Awards happen. By rough estimate – taking into account creatives, performers, musicians, crew, front of house staff, publicists, photographers, charity workers, volunteers and, last but never least, my Whatsonstage.com colleagues - more than 185 people actively worked on Sunday night’s event. Especially considering that Whatsonstage.com itself only has five full-time staff, I find that absolutely staggering.
I haven’t met them all, I don’t know all their names – but they have my thanks. Of those I do know, I tried to thank as many as I could in my closing remarks on Sunday, but I fear most of them didn’t hear me as they were working too hard elsewhere in the theatre.
So, if you’ll indulge me, here goes with a repeat of those individuals and many more. My eternal gratitude to: Stuart Piper, Jon Bath and all at Cole Kitchenn; the Concert’s creative team Russell Labey, Lizzie Gee, Mike Robertson, Ben Harrison, Iain Vince Gatt, Damian Sandys and company manager Chris Fisher; Billy Differ, Richard Johnston and everyone at Delfont Mackintosh; Graham Sykes, Graham McAlpine and everyone at the Prince of Wales; Jo Preston, Jenni Pain and everyone at Brown Lloyd James; Sally Atkins, Nick Walker and everyone at WhizzKid; my Whatsonstage.com team Laura Norman (the real boss of us all), Andrew Girvan, Richard Gresham, Sean Sweeney, Phil Smith and David Dobson; our photographer Dan Wooller, our chief critic Michael Coveney, our army of interns and volunteers; Issy Van Randwyck, Liz Robertson, Michael Carling and Karen Nichols at this year’s charity, The Theatrical Guild; Harry McNicol, John Robinson, John Gidley, Murray Buesst, Joe Pike, David Dolman, Julian Stoneman, Michael McCabe, Daniel Sparrow; all our sponsors, both corporate and individual; all of the performers, musicians and backstage crew; and our presenters Sheridan Smith, Miranda Hart and the one and only Christopher Biggins.
And, most important, thanks to all of you for voting, for attending, for tweeting – and for loving theatre as much as we do. The Whatsonstage.com Awards are, of course, the “theatregoers’ choice”, and you more than anyone are responsible for making them what they are.