The Siminovitch Prize, the most lucrative honour in Canadian theatre, was never conceived to run in perpetuity, a founder of the $100,000 award said on Monday. Torontonian Joseph Rotman was responding to last week’s surprise announcement that the Siminovitch, created in 2001 in the name of prominent Toronto medical scientist Lou Siminovitch and his late playwright wife, Elinore, would end its heretofore annual run this fall.
No reason for the termination was given last week. But in an interview, Rotman, the spokesman for the prize, said it was always the intention of the Siminovitch’s founders – six couples, including Rotman and wife Sandra, plus six non-profit institutions – that the annual award would end once it exhausted the roughly $1.2-million (plus ancillary income) that the founders originally donated.
According to Rotman, also chair of the Canada Council for the Arts, the founders felt a $100,000 award – $75,000 to a jury-picked winner, $25,000 to a protégé named by the winner – would be “more effective and have greater impact” than if they established an endowment awarding $30,000 or $40,000 each year.
Rotman acknowledged that the founders didn’t reveal at the Siminovitch’s inception that the prize would be finite. “We felt that the time period was long enough that the fact there was a sunset was not material in the context of what we were doing. The fact we were setting up a $100,000 prize – that was the story, that was the important point for the theatre community, and so we didn’t feel the need to, I guess the word would be, disclose.” Twelve years was “a long enough period,” he added. “The idea was to focus on the positive rather than the negatives.”
In an e-mail sent earlier Monday, Rotman indicated there’s no intention to start more fundraising to continue the prize or operate it under reduced circumstances. “Going back for new commitments under the current fiscal conditions does not seem appropriate nor consistent with our original request for support.”
Established to recognize an artist in mid-career “who’s contributed significantly to the fabric of theatrical life,” the prize has been structured in three-year cycles so that the winner rotates by discipline: directors one year, playwrights the next, then designers (set, costume, lighting, sound) and so on. The 2012 prize will go to a designer.
The 2011 winner, playwright Joan MacLeod, said she felt “very sad” when she heard news of the prize’s imminent end. “It’s such a generous award, that it truly does make a difference.” A professor in the writing department at the University of Victoria, for MacLeod it means a lighter course load for 2012-13 and therefore more time to work up plays. “I understand these things often have a shelf life .... Still, it makes me think of my colleagues who haven’t won this award and the change it would have made.”
Anusree Roy, the aspiring Toronto playwright/actress MacLeod named as her protégé, called her $25,000 gift “life-changing.” It “really allows for growth and for us to take time to pursue what we want to do rather than figuring out how to do it.” She’s working on two operas and three plays.