Theatre Tampa Bay Judging Program

TTB Judging Program

Tampa has a thriving and rapidly growing Professional theatre community.  In an effort to recognize excellence in performance and design, The Theatre Tampa Bay Awards, also called the TTB’s, were created.  A panel of 10 independent judges, who are approved by the Artistic Directors of each eligible company, see and score every production in the following categories:

  • Outstanding Production
  • Outstanding Director
  • Outstanding Music Direction
  • Outstanding Set Design
  • Outstanding Lighting Design
  • Outstanding Costume Design
  • Outstanding Sound Design
  • Outstanding Choreography/Fight Direction
  • Outstanding Lead Actor
  • Outstanding Lead Actress
  • Outstanding Featured Actor
  • Outstanding Featured Actress
  • Outstanding Ensemble

Judges are on the panel for a maximum of 3 years but can participate for multiple terms as long as there is a one year gap between terms.

Based on the judges scores, a show will become TTB Recommended when:

  1. A majority of the judges recommends AND
  2. The average score of the judges exceeds a certain threshold

Once a show becomes TTB Recommended, an email is sent out to the full TTB mailing list, and the TTB website is updated.

All this work builds up to the Annual TTB Awards Gala, held at the end of the current season.


The Judges Pledge

As a judge for Theatre Tampa Bay Awards, I promise to:

  • Make every effort to attend the opening weekend of each show.
  • Submit my ballot within 24 hours of seeing the show.
  • Evaluate all productions with complete impartiality.
  • Focus only on what is happening on that particular stage during that specific performance without introducing any comparisons into my deliberations.
  • Rely on taste, discernment, evaluative, analytical, and inquisitive skills to rigorously judge based on my breadth of experience with Tampa Bay theatre.
  • Be open and receptive to new experiences.
  • Attend an initial judge orientation and any subsequent judge meetings during the year, if necessary.
  • Attend all eligible shows.
  • Refrain from discussing a show with ANYONE prior to submitting my ballot.
  • Refrain from discussing how I specifically scored any piece of work.
  • Refrain from suggesting to anyone that I believe/know any information about any nomination or award, as information about any nomination or award is factually impossible to know in advance of any announcement.
  • Refrain from reading any/all published reviews until after my ballot has been submitted.
  • Shun and reject any/all hearsay or theatre gossip when completing my ballot.
  • Exercise discretion and bring no expectation of any special treatment at any theatre I attend as a judge.
  • Arrive within ten minutes of curtain time and remain for the entirety of the production.
  • I also understand that if I miss three scheduled and confirmed attendances, my term may be discontinued.


Guidance for Theatre Tampa Bay Awards Judges

We recognize that, with the continued implementation of the “Theatre Tampa Recommended” initiative, we are using your expertise to serve two purposes: 1) as an adjudicator, to identify outstanding achievement worthy of nominations and awards, and 2) to identify work that you personally feel is exceptional and can recommend in an effort to help build audiences for all theatres. We hope these tasks are not at cross-purposes, a question that we will continue to evaluate.

To ensure that all judges bring a similar understanding to their TTB Awards duties, let’s revisit a few guidelines that may help clarify how to approach your ballots.

  1. Using Goethe’s three questions is a good place to begin your analysis:
    1. What was each artist trying to do?
      1. Use your knowledge and experience to UNDERSTAND the choices made in this particular production.
    2. How well did he/she do it?
      1. Given the interpretation and the established “world of the play,” how well did the artists succeed at meeting the goals they established for themselves?  Your analysis should reflect on their artistic choices in relation to the given dramatic material.
    3. Was it worth doing?
      1. How well did these choices serve the author’s text in the creation of a compelling theatrical experience?
  2. Don’t limit your scores to a narrow range—you are given a 0 – 10 scale to reflect nuances in your thoughts about the scope of work produced.  This roughly equatesto an A+ to F grading scale. Full use of these scores makes the difference in determining, overall, if our judges consider work to be average, above average, or outstanding.  The same is true with poor work, but try to discriminate among choices that may fail, are below average, or just squeak by.  No show deserves only one score under any circumstances.
  3. The “A” range should be reflective of work that you would feel comfortable “coming out of the envelope” at Awards time.  Save the + for rare, amazing work.  You may not wish to go lower than A- if you believe the achievement is truly “outstanding,” and therefore award-worthy.
  4. Think of TTB Recommended as in the “B” range and above.  Our goal is to help put “butts in seats.”  Please don’t confuse “recommending” with “nominating.”  If there is ANYTHING you could/would share with a friend that you feel is exceptional in that production, consider “recommending” it.
  5. Since the TTB Awards serve the entire Bay area, we know that there is a wide range of interesting theatre in our region that just won’t qualify for awards, but still makes for a great evening.  It is NOT your job to re-direct, re-design, or in any way reflect on how you may have done things differently.
  6. As a judge, you must approach each play in a disinterested, analytical manner.  You should be able to give a “10” to something that you recognize represents “outstanding” achievement even though it is not to your own taste.  We each bring our personal tastes (and biases) to the theatre, but you don’t have to “like” something to recognize its quality.

What follows are a series of checklists in question form that were solicited from artists in the field.  They represent the broad categories covered by the awards.  The judging process of any awards program is, as you know, subjective at best.  These panel(s) are a great opportunity to exchange ideas, for experienced judges to share their knowledge, and for newer judges to ask questions of artists.

Even though every judge has been impaneled by the ranking of all the awards-eligible artistic directors, many different perspectives are represented in our judging pool.  The series of checklists that follow will guide judges to ask the same questions as they see work and mark their ballots.  This ensures that regardless of perspective and experience, all judges are looking through the same lens for each awards category.


This category is different from the decisions about the constituent elements: A show could score high on all of the other elements but still not have what it takes to be an outstanding production. The reverse could also be true.  A show may not be considered for technical elements because of low budget for the set, lights, and costumes and individual actors may not stand out because the show has a strong ensemble.  But the director with a strong vision could still mount an outstanding production because they kept to the vision and were able to tie everything together and create a show with impact.

Another element in an outstanding production would be Aristotle’s idea of catharsis in the theater – that the audience feels a strong emotion that accumulates during the show and reaches a climax towards the end. (The same can happen in a comedy with joy and laughter building up and bursting out in the end.)

Tying all of these elements together and doing it well is difficult. Thus outstanding productions are rare instances.  It has to do more than dazzle the audience but it has to have all of the elements come together and make an impact.

Here are criteria to use to judge an outstanding production:

  1. Cumulative emotion – Did everything come together well and did everything build up to an emotional climax?
  2. Rivet the audience – Did it rivet the audience’s attention for the whole two-hour run of the show?  An outstanding show will not just hold your attention but will not let go of you.
  3. Unity of all elements – Was everything connected and did it serve one grand vision of the director?
  4. Element of originality – Was this an original version of the script or was it an original script?  Did this production add anything that wasn’t said or done before (if it’s an older script)? A workmen-like play can be good but it needs more than that to be an outstanding production.
  5. Are all the elements in the same style, i.e. naturalism, realism, symbolism, etc.?
  6. Does the sum of all the parts (direction, design, performance) make for a visceral experience?
  7. Is there care taken in executing each element of production?
  8. Does the production take you on a compelling emotional journey?
  9. Was there a strong display of craft AND an unusual emotional connection to the audience?
  10. Did the production make the hair stand up on the back of your neck?
  11. Are you sorry to see the play end?
  12. Is it a satisfying whole? Do the costumes, sets, etc. create something special and memorable? Do all of these things combined create a special evening?


  1. Does the production have a clear, compelling, and unified vision behind it–even if that idea is an abstract or complex one?
  2. Do the various design elements work together (or against each other) to create the appropriate emotional content at any given point in the play?
  3. Determine what the production is attempting to do.  In what way does it aspire to connect with the audience?  Now, does it fulfill its own promise?  That is a sign of good direction.
  4. Is the story clearly articulated through the direction?
  5. Do the actors look like they are at home onstage?
  6. Do they take pleasure in their performance?
  7. Do they join together to tell the story, or do they sacrifice the story to show how talented they are?
  8. Do they all inhabit the same world? Does the design support that world?
  9. Do they speak at the same volume; can they be heard and seen?
  10. Do you understand who they are and what kind of people they are?
  11. Can you understand the story?
  12. Does anything jump out as being incongruous or unbelievable?
  13. Does the action unfold in a manner that is consistent with the material?
  14. How are the transitions handled; do they stop the action or do they further the action?
  15. Do you find yourself smiling because what you are seeing onstage rings so true it gives you pleasure?
  16. If the production is naturalistic, do the characters and action resonate as grounded and true?
  17. If the production is conceptual, do the design elements complement the acting in a creative and imaginative way?
  18. Is the cast connected to each other and to the material? Are they performing as one whole unit rather than just individuals on one stage together? Are they working together to make a memorable play?


(Some find that nominations go to actors who have a flashy character, and the work is big and extreme but not very deep).

  1. Does the actor take an emotional journey–through any given scene, and through the play as a whole?
  2. Is the work subtle, quiet, and deep? Does it move you in a way you did not expect?
  3. Do you wonder what an actor will do next; can you see them thinking?
  4. Is the life of the character in the actor’s eyes?
  5. Are they willing to be ugly in service to truth?
  6. How successful are they at transforming themselves? (If you have seen them before, in a different role).
  7. Do their body, voice, and breath serve their character?
  8. Do you hold your breath when they pause?
  9. Do they make sense of the text?
  10. Do you understand why the character does what they are doing?
  11. Do you find yourself seeking them out whenever they are onstage?
  12. Do you recognize the truth of their character or are they faking it?
  13. Do they relate appropriately with the other characters?
  14. Are they showboating, or are they working to serve the character, the play, and the understanding of the audience?
  15. Has he/she found the right marriage of play and technique, consequently delivering a polished performance?
  16. Are they revealing things about the character that are not necessarily in the script – bringing out more levels of character and depth?
  17. Would you admire them if they were dressed in a trash bag


  1. Is this play dependent on the power of the group rather than individual performance?
  2. Do you see deep interplay among the performers?
  3. Does the ensemble display strong craft/skills?
  4. Does the work require more eccentric skills from the actors (puppetry, dance, singing, movement, etc.?
  5. Is there a seemingly effortless interplay among the member of the acting company?
  6. Is the overall effect from the performers greater than the sum of the individual performances?
  7. Does the production reflect a special synergy among the performers?

OUTSTANDING CHOREOGRAPHY (to include movement, stage combat)

  1. Does the choreography suit the style, tone, and period of the piece?
  2. Is it pedestrian (not a good thing) or are you continually surprised by the artistic choices?
  3. When choreography needs to be accessible for the characters in the play, has the choreographer found a way to still make it theatrical?
  4. Do the actors look good doing the steps?
  5. Is it well executed and polished?
  6. Ultimately, does the work look like it took rehearsal, work, and creativity?
  7. Is the chosen movement vocabulary appropriate to the “world of the play’?
  8. Is the choreography a “bags of tricks” or is the movement vocabulary appropriate to each theatrical moment?


  1. Is it cleanly executed – tight ensemble singing, balance, diction, intonation?
  2. Is the band (if there is one) in sync and balanced with the singers?
  3. Do all of the elements of music–(tight ensemble, balanced orchestra, tempos that support the singers, dynamics, etc.) contribute to the story being told; does the music lift the emotional moments of the play?
  4. Do the musical moments reflect the emotional content of the story—whimsical/humorous at times, soaring when it needs to, etc.?
  5. Are there musical elements (instruments, arrangements, song choices) that show a creative approach to the material, a fresh look?
  6. Are the orchestrations and voices used creatively in the specific production?
  7. Are musical moments arranged to take advantage of the tools of the production?
  8. Is the music directed?  Meaning, are we getting nuance, choices, clarity and musicality?
  9. Are the singers continuing to tell the story through the interpretation of the lyrics?
  10. Is each principle’s vocal style appropriate to the period and the material?
  11. Are all the performers in sync and using the tools at their disposal to optimum benefit in the emotional arc of the play
  12. Do musical transitions into and out of songs and into and out of scenes flow smoothly?
  13. Does the dance music (if any) support the choreography?
  14. Do the instrumental arrangements and choice of instruments support the overall direction of the play or musical?


(with an intro by Helen Hayes Award recipient Colin K. Bills)

The design has two major jobs, to tell the literal story of the play as well as (and often more importantly) the emotional story of the play.  A third and all-encompassing job of the design is dramaturgical.

Some examples of basic questions to ask of the literal story of the play:

  1. Do the costumes tell us about the class of characters in the play?
  2. Does the design tell us important information about the point in history of the play’s events (i.e., period)?
  3. Does the set tell us where we are, what time of year, what time in history?
  4. Do the lighting and sound tell us the time of day, the time of year, the location?

These literal elements are of background importance to the play’s design, but if they are ignored completely the design (and production) suffers for it.  To make this into a rubric for the judges’ sake, I’d posit that the successful implementation of the literal questions in the production account for about a third of the total success.  Below encompasses the other two-thirds.

More importantly, what does the design tell us about the emotional state in the play?  This is, of course difficult and one of the most subjective tasks to judge.  An example from a designers’ panel, which is important to remember, and which guides me in my own work:

The room in which a man makes love to a woman is an entirely different room from that in which he learns of his mother’s death. 

The literal location is exactly the same for all elements of the design.  But somehow, his dress must feel different, the sunlight through the window must feel different, that portrait of his mother over the fireplace (or the photo of his lover on his desk) is perhaps more prominent, the sound in the room is either full or completely sparse.  Regardless, all of these various elements must conspire to point us to the emotional content in the piece, to the emotion that the actor and the director are employing in the telling of this story.

To further confuse, I suggest that all elements of the design (not just those intangible elements of lighting and sound) exist most importantly in the feeling of the piece, and that often the emotional story supersedes the literal story in the implementation of the design.

How the above two questions coexist is what I would define as the dramaturgical aspect of the design.  A Shakespeare play was not written with any kind of expectation that it would be lit realistically.  The poetry alone does the job of telling us about the sunrise over the cemetery in which Hero is supposedly buried.  Conversely, a play written this year does have this expectation of the lighting being able to show the idea of sunrise, and so the question becomes (for both pieces) how does the lighting tell this story of sunrise without overpowering the work that the language is doing?  The same is true of any design element: the play’s language and direction and acting does a certain amount of work, and the design elements fill in the blanks and offer commentary on all of it.  I make an important addition of commentary, as the design really must make some sort of editorial comment.  A design that is completely unnoticed is not the mark of a good design.  On the other hand, the design is not some sort of “extra” character in the play (in fact, while often a mark of high praise by reviewers, I rarely think of this as a good thing).  Many elements of the design (the costumes included) often operate on a level unnoticed by the characters onstage, but highly visible to the audience.  The design must walk that fine line between being unobtrusive and also editorial.

  1. Does the design appropriately tell the literal story of the play in collaboration with the language, direction, and acting?
  2. If literal elements in the design are ignored (i.e., time of day, location or time period), does this make sense with the overall direction of the piece?
  3. Does the emotional content, the language, or the actions of the play eliminate the need for certain literal elements in the design?
  4. Does the design make an appropriate emotional commentary on the play’s action throughout the piece?
  5. Does this commentary create an opportunity for the audience to observe the action of the play more profoundly without getting in the way of the action of the play?
  6. Are the tools available to the designers (color, texture, line, etc.) used in a compelling manner to illuminate the “world of the play”?
  7. Does the design work with or against the acting and direction of the play?
  8. If the design works at cross-purposes to the action on stage, does it create an appropriate tension?
  9. If a design is “beautiful” or “cool”, is this actually appropriate for the play?  This is not necessarily a question of the design outshining the performance or design, but of the design appropriately commenting on the play itself.
  10. Does the design help you understand the metaphor, or the greater message of the play?
  11. Does the set afford the actors exciting playing spaces, many levels, interesting angles?
  12. Does the sound contribute to the forward motion of the story, or does it merely tell you what you should be feeling?
  13. Do the costumes stifle the actors, or do they humanize the characters, make them specific?
  14. How do the lights and sound affect the rhythm of the play?
  15. Can you discern the creativity at work, separate from the budget?
  16. Do all these aspects give you a fresh insight into the play?