Tony Committee RulingPosted: June 14, 2014
If you haven’t yet heard (no pun intended), on Wednesday the Tony Committee eliminated the Best Sound Design of a Play and Best Sound Design of a Musical categories from next year’s award season. As you might imagine, there has been a huge backlash from the theatre community, culminating quite quickly in this petition to reinstate the categories. Now I know there is already a lot out there in terms of angry responses in the form of articles, blog posts, and social media alike, but if you’ll allow me to add a few flames to the fire…
Over the years I’m finding the Tony Awards have become more and more like a secret club that only certain people are worthy enough to be included. There has been so much concern over getting better ratings in recent years that it has consistently become more about that than celebrating theatre. To begin with, as I mentioned in my last post, you have LL Cool J rapping a Meredith Wilson song instead of dedicating time to a number from the Tony-winning score of The Bridges of Madison County (re: Steven Pasquale’s tweet). Jason Robert Brown certainly let people know his thoughts on the matter in his thank you speech. Or we get a song from Sting’s The Last Ship or J-Hud doing Finding Neverland (neither of which has even made it to Broadway yet) instead of giving ROCKY the proper time needed to do a full number. I’ve read in a few places that the ceremony has turned into a commercial for next season rather than a look-back at what was accomplished this year.
Then you’ve got all of the awards that aren’t considered “mainstream” enough to be aired along with the rest of the broadcast. You know, like the designers. Cause who needs lights, costumes, and sound? I remember a few years back when even more awards were added to this unaired portion, categories like Best Score, Book of a Musical, Choreography, etc. And what have we been getting in place of that? They even cut the In Memoriam segment this year from the main broadcast! I mean, come on.
And now back to the sound design issue. Every year friends and I talk about categories that should be added to the awards season: casting directors, stage managers, musical directors, book of a play, best replacement, etc. We look for opportunities to honor more people. And now we’re taking things away? Sound only started getting recognized in 2008! This article touches on some of the reasoning behind the committee’s decision. I understand that it might be difficult to assess sound design, especially when often the goal is to not even notice the design at all when watching a production. “Members believe that sound design is more of a technical craft, rather than a theatrical art form.” It’s funny; I just had an intense debate with my brother Jeff last weekend about what is art versus what is entertainment. This seems like a similar debate: technical craft versus art. What deserves to be honored? What makes a design one and not the other?
When this ruling was announced, my friend Jenn (the brilliant director of a little play called The Understudy) and I immediately started discussing just how integral our sound designer (the fantastic Ien DeNio) was to our show. Sure it’s a technical skill, but her work was a vital part of the artistic process as well. For example, there were these three enormous set changes in the play, and it was a last-minute decision during tech (per Ien’s suggestion) to add sound. She had a very specific idea in mind for what would work, and because she had been a part of the artistic contribution from the beginning, we trusted her to take the idea and run with it. This addition of sound ended up filling in the spaces and further enhancing the world we had built together with the entire creative team.
In honor of the sound designers out there (and all of the others who have yet to be recognized in the main ceremony, if at all), please consider signing this petition to reinstate these awards. Okay, I’m stepping off my Broadway soapbox now. Thanks for listening.
What do you think about the committee’s decision?