In an essay I’ve written for Howlround, I ask ” Is New York City part of America?” Next year for the first time, theaters within the five boroughs of New York City will be eligible for the Regional Theater Tony Award, which has been awarded every year since 1976. As I wrote previously in this blog, this means the Tonys, which has never honored Off-Broadway, may finally begin to do so,
The rules change annoyed the members of the organization that chooses the winner each year, the American Theatre Critics Association. I was startled by their indignation, and detected a resentment and prejudice towards New York, which is the real topic of my Howlround essay.
In the comments section of the piece, someone named Sarah wrote “I definitely see both sides of the debate!’ She concluded “Instead of lumping Off-Broadway in with regional, why not just create an “Excellence in Off-Broadway Theatre” award in addition to the regional award? That seems like the most logical solution to me.”
I agree that something like this is what the Tonys could have done, instead of messing with the Regional Theater Tony Award. My hope is that the organizations responsible for the Tonys, the American Theatre Wing and the Broadway League, will eventually come around, and see it is in everybody’s interest to make Off-Broadway a regular part of the ceremony in some way. Most theatergoers probably don’t realize there is a difference between Broadway (the 40 houses in the midtown theater district that have more than 500 seats) and Off-Broadway (the many more theaters spread throughout the city with between 100 and 499 seats) except that, usually, Off-Broadway ticket prices are lower.
But I believe the change the Tonys made is better than no change at all. I don’t accept any of the arguments I’ve heard for why it’s good and proper that The Antoinette Perry Award for Excellence in Theatre has excluded Off-Broadway until now, nor why it shouldn’t go even further.
Some say the Tonys are for Broadway; Off-Broadway has its own awards. But the Tonys are by far the most high-profile theater award, the only one broadcast nationally – the face of New York theater to the nation and probably the world.
Some argue it’s not practical, and go into numbing detail over the process. I don’t believe it’s necessary for the Tonys to adopt the practices of local awards such as the Outer Critics Circle, which includes competitive categories just for Off-Broadway, or the Drama Desk, in which Broadway, Off-Broadway and even Off-Off-Broadway shows compete with one another. I don’t advocate making the Tony Awards four hours long. But surely all these creative people can come up with a workable solution and truly recognize excellence in the theater by acknowledging annually that much of it resides Off-Broadway.