Shedding Some Light on the Dimming of Marquees
It is a tradition in the Broadway Theatre to dim the lights of all Broadway marquees in tribute to a celebrated artist who has passed. This is a lovely ritual, a much-needed way to show respect and to synthesize a shared loss in a community that is tight-knit. It’s a simple gesture that symbolically represents the light going out on a beloved friend and a career that touched many. It’s the community’s way of putting our flag at half-mast. It’s a collective way to essentially say “goodbye,” but also assert that “we will not forget.”
The Committee of Theatre Owners has decided to dim the lights of the Al Hirschfeld, Broadhurst, Gershwin, Gerald Schoenfeld, St. James, and Nederlander Theatres in memory of Marin Mazzie on 9/19 at 6:45pm. https://t.co/6J1WE4IlMM pic.twitter.com/IKuEa0Do3f— The Broadway League (@BroadwayLeague) September 14, 2018
The decision of when to dim the lights and when it is appropriate is made by The Committee of Theatre Owners, part of The Broadway League. In the last year or so, they have made some egregious choices in how to honor legends of the Broadway Theatre. In what seems like an arbitrary system, they have begun apportioning a certain number of theatres that will dim their lights, measuring the worth of the artist in numbers. When Jan Maxwell died in February of this year, her five-time Tony-nominated career was allotted the dimming of the lights on one theatre: the Marquis. Similarly, Tony-winner Gary Beach, who left us on July 17 of this year, was given just the New Amsterdam dimmed in his honor. When playwright Neil Simon died on August 26, ALL Broadway theatres dimmed their marquees (deservedly so). On September 13th, we lost another of our beloved stars, Marin Mazzie, a three-time Tony-nominee who had an enormous following, not to mention a legion of caring fans and colleagues who pulled for her as she battled cancer. Mazzie will be given seven theatres : The Lyric, the Al Hirschfeld, the Broadhurst, the Gershwin, the Gerald Schoenfeld, the St. James, and the Nederlander.
The above artists deserved to have ALL of the Broadway Theatres dim their lights upon their passing. It’s a sad day in the theatre community when the powers-that-be begin assessing the careers of these truly amazing people and assign a value to their worth with a certain number of theatres deemed proportionally appropriate for their contributions. Is this really what community is about? Is this really commemorating a life lost? It casts a patina on the honor that is most assuredly not intentioned, marring what should be a beautiful and somber tribute. Is this supposed to somehow indicate to us how we are to embrace the performer’s legacy? If that is the case, what are we even doing it for? If this cannot be rectified, maybe it is time to retire this custom and come up with a remembrance that carries equal weight across the Broadway community, paying tribute to all of our friends and colleagues? But why lose a cherished custom just because it is not being administered with care?
Fine. Don’t dim all the lights. Turn them to max wattage instead and blow those bitches out because that’s what these people did when they were onstage.— Lesli Margherita (@QueenLesli) September 15, 2018
An argument can be made on behalf of The Committee of Theatre Owners and The Broadway League that it would be impossible to honor (in this fashion) everyone in the Broadway theatre community who passes. They would be dimming the lights all of the time. They do have a daunting and difficult decision to make. Perhaps they have ruled that some sort of tribute, any tribute (even one theatre) is a manageable way of handling the tragic losses that will unfortunately continue to come? But not everyone who has appeared on Broadway has enjoyed the careers and followings that Mazzie, Maxwell, and Beach have. It is easy enough to decipher who has astounded us, again and again, with their staying power, their luminescence, their distinct voice, their personality, and that something extra that radiated from their soul and resonated with audiences. All lights should be dimmed for those who were generous enough with their time and talent to make these awe-inspiring contributions.
What do you think, reader? How should The Broadway League handle the dimming of Broadway’s lights? Sound off below.