Tony Awards Tommy Tune Controversy and Other Broadcast Choices Raise Questions about Ceremony

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The coveted awards.

The 2015 Tony Awards, which will be broadcast live on CBS on June 7, are filled with controversy regarding which parts will be seen live and which will be only available via YouTube. At this point, Tommy Tune’s remarks regarding his Lifetime Achievement Award have been relegated to the Tony Awards YouTube channel. Creative awards, including those for Best Original Score, Best Book of a Musical, Scenic Design, Lighting Design, and others are given off air with clips of acceptance speeches shown to the live audience during commercial breaks and the full speeches available later on YouTube. The award for Best Play and Best Musical is not accepted by the writers of such, but by the producers.

Whose Awards Are These?

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The Tonys are a major production.

These decisions regarding which recipients are seen and which are not raises questions as to the reason for and intention of the Tony Awards. The awards are supposed to “celebrate excellence in Broadway theatre.” However, more and more they have become commercials for current and upcoming shows.

Let’s face it, this is the only national audience to which Broadway has access, and it makes sense for producers to use it to create interest in specific productions as well as get people across America thinking of Broadway in general. But should that occur at the price of actually compromising the intention of the Tonys?

Simplicity and Then Complexity

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Hedwig and the Angry Inch made a big splash at the Tony’s last year.

The Tony Awards started simply. The original awards were held at the Waldorf Astoria on April 6, 1947. Winners received a scroll and articles of jewelry. Medallions were not awarded until 1949. Then, 20 years after the Tonys originated, things changed in a major way.

The awards ceremony was originally overseen and presented by the American Theatre Wing. The Wing is “dedicated to supporting excellence and education in theatre.” In 1967, the Wing joined with The Broadway League to present the awards. This was also the first time that the Tonys were broadcast live nationwide.

The Broadway League is a very different organization from the American Theatre Wing. Comprised of theatre owners, general managers, and producers located in New York City and 250 other cities across North America, The Broadway League is the national trade association for the Broadway theatre industry. This marriage between League and Wing, as noted in an earlier Broadway IQ feature, is an uneasy one, and over the years it has switched the focus of the awards from a celebration of excellence to a three-hour long marketing extravaganza.

Movements for Change

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Will Tommy Tune’s remarks be broadcast?

Over the years, various organizations and individuals have tried to get the Tony Awards to shift their focus back to their original, and still stated, intent. This year is an exceptionally busy one for such activity.

One involves the Lifetime Achievement Award. It has been the practice to not show the remarks of the person receiving this award. That, of course, may seem like an odd choice for the Tonys. Here you have someone such as Tommy Tune, nine-time Tony winner in four separate categories and an amazing creative force on Broadway, and yet he won’t be allowed to have access to the full public forum.

In the New York Daily Post in a piece entitled “Tell the Tonys to give Tommy Tune his due!”, entertainment columnist Michael Riedel writes “In the past, some lifetime achievers have been relegated to the pre-telecast ceremony, their speeches appearing only on YouTube.

“This shouldn’t happen to Tune!”

Also, to the end of having Tune appear live, theatrical blogger Richard Skipper has started a petition at Change.org that notes, “”I am addressing the fact that at The Tony Awards, The Lifetime Achievement Award will NOT be presented during The Tony telecast. I would like to change that! Can you weigh in with your thoughts? Please sign the petition and pay it forward.” That petition can be found via this link.

Fun Home is nominated for Score and Book.

Fun Home is nominated for Score and Book.

Another petition has been started to get the Tonys to broadcast the categories of Best Original Score and Best Book of a Musical. The petition, which was originated by those associated with The Interval, which is “a theatre website, founded to be a virtual home for female voices of the theatre,” is in response to the nominations of Jeanine Tesori and Lisa Kron for Fun Home. Tesori and Kron wrote the score and Kron the book.

This petition questions, “When girls across the country turn on the Tony Awards, what do you want them to see?

“We want them to see that women can write musicals, and we think an important step in achieving this is that the Tony Awards broadcast the categories of Best Original Score and Best Book of a Musical this year.”

That petition may be found here.

The Point Being

These movements to change what is broadcast live at the Tonys focuses on the fact that the point of the Tony Awards has been lost. If we cannot celebrate live those who have created the live theatrical events that are to be honored, then perhaps their needs to be truth in advertising. If the Tony Awards are a showcase for Broadway, then be honest and forthright about it. If they are a celebration of excellence, then make them such and honor those creative people as they should be. The Tony Award lineup for the CBS broadcast up has not yet been finalized. But it will need to be soon.

The American Theatre Wing and The Broadway League: Dedicated to Different Goals?

 

The Wing champions American Theatre

The Wing champions American Theatre

The American Theatre Wing notes on its website, “In 2017, we will celebrate 100 years of service to the American Theatre. We have been tirelessly committed to championing and honoring American Theatre.” The Wing created and is responsible for the administration of the Tony Awards®. Each year in their effort to foster the American theatre, they present thousands of dollars in awards and grants and offer a wealth of educational programming. They are dedicated to preserving our theatrical past, celebrating its achievements, and fostering its future.

Controlling the Awards

Who chooses the Tony nominees?

Who chooses the Tony nominees?

An article published in the Huffington Post last week noted that often there are 50 people on the Tony nominating committee this year. That’s many more than even the recent past. As an example, in 2007-2008 there were 27 and last year 47. But each year various members of the committee elect to recuse themselves. Of the 50 who are on the committee this season, 11 will not participate. Someone will recuse him or herself if there is a conflict of interest or if they cannot see all of the shows on Broadway. This is the first year that the Tonys have defined when someone should be recused.

The interesting thing about the whole process of selecting the committee each year is that, according to the article, it is not transparent. Basically it comes down to the Tony Administration Committee selecting members of the nominating committee by the fact that they are “deemed worthy” to be on it. It is a select group to say the least.

The Tonys: An Uncomfortable Partnership

The Broadway League partners with the Wing to create the awards

The Broadway League partners with the Wing to create the awards

Although the Wing is credited with being in charge of the Tonys, these awards are actually controlled by two entities, which are known by the name Tony Awards Productions. Tony Awards Productions is comprised of the American Theatre Wing and the Broadway League, also known as the League. It’s been widely reported and, at times, it fairly evident, that this marriage is not made in heaven. That’s partly due to the fact the League is comprised of real estate folks, theatre owners, and investors, producers, who see the Tony Awards® not so much as a way to honor the very best in the American theatre, but more so, as a marketing tool.

The Wing and the League are very different beasts with very different goals and that has bred so much acrimony that the League has threaten to create its own awards for excellence, which smacks of both vanity and narcissism. Last year, prior to the awards, the publication DEADLINE offered an article by Jeremy Gerard that highlighted this controversy.

Broadway Lights Controversy Over Rivers

Rivers' controversy.

Rivers’ controversy.

In September 2014, the Broadway League got entangled in controversy when they decided they would not dim their lights to honor the passing of Joan Rivers. League leadership said that Rivers did not meet the criteria for the honor. Eventually producers and theatre owners changed their minds, but the incident became an embarrassment for the organization, as some members expressed their dismay at the decision and various celebrities who felt that the late comedian did deserve the honor launched an online petition.

Fair Ticket Prices

An American in Paris has received numerous nominations this year.

An American in Paris has received numerous nominations this year.

In a recent Backstage article entitled “6 Facts about the Broadway League,” it was noted that along co-sponsoring the Tonys, being engaged in the community, and making sure professional theatre is seen around the U.S., that the League is focused on keeping ticket prices fair. In essence, the organization is dedicated to making sure that unscrupulous resellers of tickets don’t gouge the public and that they are licensed. This consumer protection is important.

Considering the Two Entities

Thus, when you review the list of Tony nominations this year consider that although they are supposed to be given to those who have attained the highest artistic achievement on the American stage that, for better or worse, a Tony win, or two, or three, or more can mean an extended run on Broadway, big national tours, and a huge increase in revenue.

However, to call this a “bad guy, good guy” scenario would be wrong. The League is not a bunch of villains, and nor is the Wing comprised of heroes. These are two groups of people, theatre professionals, invested in many ways in the American theatre and focused on not only making sure that it thrives, but taking on the responsibility of not only making a profit for investors and employing thousands of professionals, but also helping to ensure that the very precious and lively art form of theatre survives and thrives.

In that sense, the Tony Awards® hit their mark, and in a world where nothing is perfect or simple, especially the art of live performance, that odd couple, the American Theatre Wing and the Broadway League, may just be a semi-perfect marriage.