Tony Nominations - Where We Are Wrong
Earlier this week the 2015 Tony Award nominations came out and we have seen the usual barrage of whines and complaints that “so-and-so was snubbed” or “this show was entirely overlooked.” We treat these honors as if every well-publicized piece of theatre that opens and that every show brimming with talented people deserves to rewarded for showing up. In a world where the out-of-town tryout is a luxury and not the norm, and where many Broadway musicals gestate in regional theatres, Off-Broadway, or open cold on Broadway, the fact they get that far is honor enough. You did your job by taking the risk, finding your support, and, again, showing up. If you run long enough and make your producers some money, all the better for you. If you create groundbreaking art, take your craft to whole new level that shows you at your personal best and begins to outshine the others in your field, then it’s time to talk about awards.
One of the things I do for a living is work with youth and teach them about theatre. I believe strongly that we need to shape the minds of the coming generations to appreciate and respect theatre. My goal is have them ask the question “what can I do to advance this art form?” rather than be mired in “what can this art form do for me?” It is, after all, an art form first and a reason for ego stroking and awards second. There is a general attitude being taught to kids today that just “showing up” is enough and that they will be rewarded for doing the minimum. This is an absurd thought. We encourage them to show up and try, and THAT should be the minimum. We teach them how to widen their range of tools, deepen their appreciation for great theatre, watch them grow, and see how theatre transforms them from being people who just “show up” into those who engage life with drive, vision and confidence.
I feel a great deal of compassion and empathy for every Broadway play and musical that opens, because I know how much industry, capital and faith gets poured into what is essentially an enormous gamble. The people who do this work are heroes. They are. We are, however, all devoted to theatre as an art form, and if we treat award nominations like participation ribbons, then how are we really recognizing quality or excellence? Of course this is all subjective, but just being among the many shows that open in a season, or having the right names attached to it, can’t be the deciphering criteria for a Tony Award nomination. The 2014-2015 Broadway season was overflowing with plays, musicals, revivals, and some were good and some were not. Some broke new ground and showed great artistry, others did not. Some have managed to run and make money and others closed quickly at a great financial and emotional loss.
When I look at the list of nominees for the 2015 Tony Awards, I don’t see a name among them that doesn’t belong there for what they achieved this season. To bemoan the absence of certain names and titles is to be expected (I have a few that I was sad didn’t make the cut), but I wouldn’t exactly call their absence a “snub”. A snub would be an active choice by a group of people to leave certain shows out of the running, as if to make some sort of arrogant or holier-than-thou point. I refuse to believe that the nominating committee would do anything so inappropriate, defeating the spirit of the award. If a show or performance is truly amazing and enough people think so, it will run and/or it will hopefully be recognized. It does a disservice and a dishonor to the shows that have been nominated when we suggest different names should fill these categories. If it truly is about the art, then let each piece speak for itself through quality writing, directing, and performing. Showing up is just the start.