The American Theatre Wing’s Antoinette Perry Awards for Excellence in Theatre presentation ceremony occurred last night and portions of it were broadcast via television. I would like to take this moment to respond.
Dear ATW and Broadway Producers,
Let me begin with: Presenting what are essentially a local arts award ceremony to a national audience and making it interesting and relevant to all possible audiences is impossible. It is literally an impossible task. While I acknowledge the impossibility of the task at hand, you don’t need to be this bad at it. I also aver that if you held yourself to be a local arts award ceremony and not The Most Important 3 Hours in Theatre All Year. I would leave you alone.
Our disagreement comes from a difference in mission. You believe that you are presenting awards for the best achievement in theatre in the world. I believe that you are presenting trade awards for best commercial theatre in one section of New York City… and broadcasting the face of stage performance to the world.
The first part may be snide quibbling but we mean the same part of the show there. I will always want more rigor from any examination of excellence… but that’s for arguing over drinks later. The second part is the part I’m pretty sure you’re abdicating, intentionally or not. It’s not easy to be the face of stage performance when your metrics tell you no one wants to watch stage performance on television. When highlighting choreography on camera makes the dials drop what are you supposed to do? When the network tells you to lose an hour what do you do?
You try to put together the best, highest rated television program you can and you abandon the greater public good. I understand. It’s impossible.
But please don’t give up.
Ask for help. Innovate.
Before your 2013 ceremony, your host Neil Patrick Harris delivered a patter bit written by Lin Manuel Miranda in the middle of his opening number, you may remember it:
“There’s a kid in the middle of nowhere who’s sitting there living for Tony performances. Singing and flipping along with the Pippins, and Wickeds, and Kinkys, Matildas, and Mormons’s. So we might reassure that kid, and do something to spur that kid, ‘cause I promise you, all of us up here tonight, we were that kid.”
(starts at 5’20”)
That it really. That’s the mission. Do something to spur that kid.
‘But we’re doing that!’ you say.
“LL Cool J and TI and so many musical numbers!” you say.
“Wolverine hosted!” you say.
What am I going to say?
Not all kids.
What about the design kids?
What about the tech kids?
What about the writers?
When you present their work as specifically less than (and I don’t know of a way to parse your broadcast treatment of them any other way) how are those kids supposed to dream of being part?
What did last night have to offer the kid on the margin between engineering and design who has loved her high school theatre experience?
You told her that even on the biggest possible moment of the most commercially successful version of her life in the arts… she would be awarded during a cat food commercial and then excerpted on the way to a different commercial.
I’m sure that’s not what you meant.
I’m also sure you don’t have any additional minutes.
Here’s what I’m asking.
Move the magic. Use a second screen to help you.
in your American Theatre Wing Tony™ Watch App and the Watch Along section of your website, feature FULL glorious design presentations of the all the nominees. Let the power of this fully operational entertainment juggernaut be seen. Then if you must contain the time allotted show us the envelope opening and give each nominee their 1.8 seconds of reaction time as though they were real Tony™ nominees and during the edited winners speech SHOW THE DESIGN. Show 35 seconds of the design presentation from the second screen presentation on the first screen. Let the magic flow.
Also in that app?
Full scenes from the nominated writer’s texts with hosted space to feature videos of folks performing those scenes.
Choreographers teaching 32 bars from a nominated show.
Full songs from nominated shows.
Full scenes from nominated shows.
It’s a lot of work. But as much as I resent it: you are the front door. Open as wide as you can. We need all of the inspired energy from all corners we can get. This tent needs all the diversity and genius we can attract. We need to not dismiss anyone who wants to bring themselves to this artform. Help us.
And while you are celebrating New York’s brightest (with even a regional theatre award) take a second to remember that without those thousands of local theatres that were the first homes of all of those celebrities Broadway is nothing. Wolverine reminding viewers to find a show in their area could do a lot of good on the grassroots level even if the impact wouldn’t be felt on Broadway for a generation.
The lights are bright on Broadway. Use them.