2017 NY Theater Award Guide

Now that the New York theater season has ended officially, the theater awards season steps up.   What are all these awards? How do they differ? When will the various nominations and awards be announced? (And who’s won or been nominated already in 2017?) Below my opinionated guide — which I’ll keep updated as the awards season unfolds.

Most of the awards are given out at ceremonies that are open to the (paying) public.

The Tony Awards

This year’s Tony Award nominations were announced, Tuesday, May 2. List of nominations. The televised awards ceremony will take place June 11

Tony Awards StatuetteThe Tonys, established by the American Theatre Wing in 1947, are named after Antoinette Perry, an actress, director and producer — and co-founder of the American Theatre Wing. (The award was named in her honor after her death.) The Tony Awards annually honor work on Broadway, and are the only awards ceremony broadcast on network television which helps explain their prominence.

There are currently 24 competitive categories (the two sound award categories, which were eliminated in 2014, will be restored in 2018). There are also several special awards each year. For example, the Regional Theater Award is selected based on a recommendation by the members of the American Theatre Critics Association, the only national organization of theater critics.

The competitive nominees are selected by a rotating group of up to 50 theater professionals, who meet after the Tony eligibility deadline, which this year was April 27th (which helps explain why there is such a marathon of Broadway openings in April.)

The Tony voters, numbering about 846 (it fluctuates from year to year), are theater professionals (representatives from various theater unions, for example, including Actors Equity) and press agents, and a handful of critics. A few years ago, The Tonys announced they would no longer allow any theater critics to vote. This caused such an outcry that they re-enfranchised the dozen or so members of the New York Drama Critics Circle (see below) , but still banned the rest of us*.

The Pulitzer Prize for Drama

The Pulitzer Prizes were established in 1917 at Columbia University, and, although most of the awards are given for works of journalism,  from the start, they included an annual award  for a new work by an American playpulitzer_front_logowright that premiered either in New York or regionally within the previous calendar year. While this is a national award, it’s rare for the award to go to a show that hasn’t had a run in New York City.

The 2017 Pulitzer Prize for Drama was awarded to Lynn Nottage for Sweat

The winner and finalist are recommended by a different annual group of four theater critics and a theater academic, but can be overridden by the Pulitzer Board — which was most infamously done in 1963, when the board rejected the jury’s choice of Edward Albee’s “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” and gave no award in drama that year. In 2010, the board rejected all three of the jury’s recommendations, and chose the winner on its own, “Next to Normal.”

Given this flaw in the selection process, and the prize’s generally spotty record, I have a theory why the Pulitzer Prize in Drama have become widely accepted as the most prestigious award that a dramatist can receive (short of the Nobel Prize in Literature, which is only occasionally given to playwrights — to Dario Fo in 1997 and Harold Pinter in 2005, for example.) Since the Pulitzers are largely journalism prizes, they are the most publicized awards in the United States.

Drama Desk Awards

List of 2017 Drama Desk Award nominations

.Nominations for these awards were announced this year on  April 27 .  The winners will be announced at an awards show at The Town Hall on June 4th, which will be live-streamed online.

The Drama Desk Awards were begun in 1955. The members of the Drama Desk are almost all theater critics and journalists. The Drama Desk Awards are the only awards that consider Broadway, Off-Broadway, and Off-off-Broadway shows together in the same competitive categories. This has the advantage of giving attention to often-obscure nominees. For example, in 2013, Daniel Everidge was one of the nominees for Outstanding Actor in a Play for his role as a young man with autism in the Off-Broadway play, Falling — right up there with Tom Hanks, and Nathan Lane and Tracy Letts. You see the problem here right away: The winners almost inevitably are the better-known (Broadway) competitors.

In 2015, however, “Hamilton” upended the usual results. Then Off-Broadway, it received 13 nominations, more than any other show, including those on Broadway, and won the Outstanding Musical award plus six others; again, more than any other show.

The Outer Critics Circle Awards

List of 2017 Outer Critics Circle Award winners

List of 2017 Outer Critics Circle Award nominations

outercriticscirclelogoFounded in 1959, originally established as an alternative to the Drama Critics Circle, The Outer Critics Circle is made up of theater critics and journalists from out-of-town, national and online publications.  It, too, recognizes both Broadway and Off-Broadway, but considers them in separate categories with just a few exceptions.

This year’s nominations were announced April 25th. The winners were  announced May 8th.

New York Drama Critics Circle Awards
NY Drama Critics CircleThe 25 critics (from what are deemed the major New York publications) that make up the New York Drama Critics Circle, were originally established in 1935 as an alternative to the Pulitzers. They meet in May to determine the best play, foreign play, and best musical of the season, as well as usually a couple of “special citations.” They choose from any New York theater, and frequently pick Off-Broadway shows. The winners this year were announced May 8th.

2017 NY Drama Critics Circle Awards; Oslo best play, The Band’s Visit best musical


Theatre World Awards

List of 2017 winners
TheatreWorldAwardslogoEvery year since 1945, the Theatre World Awards have honored 12 performers (6 men, 6 women) making their Broadway debuts. This is in many ways the loveliest of awards.The ceremony will take place this year on June 5th at the Imperial Theater.

Lucille Lortel Awards

2017 Lucille Lortel Award winners

LucilleLortellogoThe Lucille Lortel Awards was founded in 1985 by the Off-Broadway League, named after a prominent actor, and thus focuses exclusively on achievement Off-Broadway.

The Lortel Award nominees and winners are determined by a committee made up of theater professionals, journalists and educators. This year’s Lucille Lortels were announced on May 7 at NYU’s Skirball Center

List of  2017 Lucille Lortel Award nominations

Obie Awards

ObieAwardslogoFounded in 1955 by the Village Voice cultural editor, the Obie Awards annually honor Off-Broadway and Off-Off Broadway shows and individuals. They are now co-presented by the American Theatre Wing. This year’s ceremony will be held at Webster Hall on May 22. There are no nominees for Obies, only winners, and, according to their press releases, “in the conviction that creativity is not competitive, the judges select outstanding artists and productions and may even invent new categories to reward artistic merit.”

Drama League Awards
dramaleaguelogoThe Drama League Awards, as the list of Drama League Award nominees  this year makes clear, selects five winners in five competitive categories, and also gives special awards. Although founded way back in 1922, this is the least regarded of the major theater awards because the voters are any audience members who join the Drama League, and because they have a single performing category (“distinguished performance”) with some 60 nominees but only one winner.

There are many other theater awards — such as the New York Innovative Theatre Awards honoring achievement in independent (aka Off-Off Broadway) theater, the American Theatre Wing’s Henry Hewes Awards , honoring theatrical design, and the former  Fred and Adele Astaire Awards, honoring excellence in dance and choreography, which this year has been renamed the Chita Rivera Awards and moved to September.

*I still am a voting member of the American Theatre Critics Association, the Drama Desk Awards, and the Outer Critics Circle.

Author: New York Theater

Jonathan Mandell is a 3rd generation NYC journalist, who sees shows, reads plays, writes reviews and sometimes talks with people.

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