I don’t even think that 24-hours have passed since this piece of news was announced and I already feel late to the discussion of this topic. That’s because Garrett Eisler at The Playgoer, Chris Caggiano at Everything I Know I Learned From Musicals and a couple of critics have tackled this before me.
The piece of news I am talking about is a decision the Tony Award Management committee made last night that would keep critics, journalists and editors from voting on the Tony Awards. According to the letter that members of the First Night Press List received, one of the factors was because, “certain publications and individual critics have historically pursued a policy of abstaining from voting on entertainment awards in general, to avoid any possible conflicts of interest in fulfilling their primary responsibilities as journalists.”
I don’t work in the theater or write about theater for a publication in New York, but the only publication that I know of that does not allow their critics to vote for any awards is the New York Times, which has had a policy barring all critics from voting on such awards from 1989-1996 and then from the 2002-2003 until now and possibly the end of time.
In her post on the New York Post’s Theater Blog, Elisabeth Vincentelli wrote, “If critics who don’t vote for this reason are such a problem, take them off the rolls then. But there’s a lot of us who dutifully attend all the shows and take our voting responsibilities seriously.” Vincentelli brings up a very good point because if there are critics on their roles that do fall under that category, they should be removed. Although, I would hope that the New York Times doesn’t have any writers on that list because they haven’t been allowed to vote for a few years now.
And the matter of attending all of the shows is a very important point. It’s well noted by people who follow theater news–or read Michael Riedel’s column on a regular basis–that several of the Tony Award voters don’t even make it to a large number of the shows that are in the season, none the less the shows that are then nominated. The members of this First Night Press List make it to most, if not all of the shows that open on Broadway that season. They actually see all of the shows! I don’t know if the issue of people who actually see the shows voting on the awards is a big issue for the Tony Awards management committee, although it should be.
And Vincentelli, Adam Feldman, who writes for Time Out New York and is President of the New York Drama Critics Circle, and Matt Windman of amNY all point out the critics actually vote for the shows that deserve to win. The remaining voters include actors, directors, playwrights, producers, theater owners, choreographers, designers and a few other groups. A producer is probably going to vote for their own show. I don’t think that critics hold grudges like people in the above categories. At least, I haven’t gotten that impression from critics and I don’t hold a grudge towards a certain theater. In their job critics have to be objective; I don’t see why they wouldn’t carry that objectivity into their voting.
This sudden irrational decision is mind boggling. Is this to attract more viewers? Because I don’t think that Sally from Readlyn, Iowa is going know who votes for the Tony Awards. How many people who do watch the Tony Awards know that the critics vote for them, other than me and other theater bloggers? Is this because everyone else that votes has a bone to pick with the critics?
But ultimately, what this decision comes down to, regardless of the reason that the committee came up with, is that this diminishes the credibility of the Tony Awards. And for those of you unaware, the Tony Awards have been losing their credibility over the years, notably this year when they had touring productions perform. By this decision, two things are accomplished. One, the Tony Awards will no longer be voted on by the people who would be the best and the most unbiased with deciding what represents the finest Broadway events. Two, the American Theater Wing now has the pat-on-the-back infomercial that, after this year’s telecast, the awards seemed determined to become.
Personally, I’m a bit annoyed about this because it seems irrational, not to mention there’s not a good reason given as to why this is occurring. There were about 800 Tony Award voters; the journalists, critics and editors made up 1/8 of that group. That’s 100 people who made it to several of the shows on Broadway; 100 people who voted without an agenda to support their own show. 1/8 might not seem like a large ratio, but 100 votes could be enough to reward a show of true artistic merit an award, as opposed to a big, splashy musical.
By the way, Windman provided readers with email addresses, phone numbers and mailing addresses to contact Tony Award Productions to show that you do not support the decision.