March, 2010 — The critics (in this case, the 20-some members of the New York Drama Critics Circle) will get back the Tony Awards vote next year, according to a March 25 announcement by the Broadway League and American Theatre Wing, the Tonys’ joint proprietors. Last July, they threw out the baby with the bathwater by disenfranchising the 100-strong First Night List, replete with editors and others in addition to critics. Now they’ve apologized for what was “perceived as a slight against … working theatre critics … we deeply regret if offense was inadvertently given.”
ATCA entered the discussion on Aug. 7 with a letter of protest from the executive committee which suggested doing exactly what the Tonys have now done — return the vote to the NYDCC (“and such other critics as seems best”). A report by Randy Gener on “Critics’ Right to Vote?” in the Dec. issue of American Theatre quoted liberally from that letter, which was echoed in the lead letter in AT’s Feb. issue.
Only a few members of the NYDCC are ATCA members — after all, ATCA was started in 1974 specifically to give voice to critics outside New York — but it has always been important for ATCA to express solidarity with theater critics everywhere. Charlotte Martin of the Broadway League contacted ATCA to acknowledge its helpful contribution to the debate.
The text of that letter is below, following links to some of the discussion that followed the Tonys’ action. Not all commentary was negative: see Michael Feingold.
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NY Times, July 14, 2009: “Journalists Will No Longer Be Voting for Tony Awards,” by Patrick Healy (includes original statement by the Tony Management Committee)
Time Out, New York, July 14: “This just in: Tony Awards nix crix,” by Adam Feldman
Variety, July 15: “Tony Awards anger journalists; Press removed from voting pool protest,” by David Rooney and Gordon Cox
Guardian.co.uk, July 16: “The Tony awards need their journalist voters,” by Karen Fricker
New York Post, July 17: “A Whole New Ballot Game: No Tony Vote, But Pres Can Take Revenge,” by Michael Riedel
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, July 28: “The Tony Awards unwisely disenfranchise the critics, and great is the wailing thereat“ by Christopher Rawson
The Clyde Fitch Report, Aug. 7: “Critics Chair Tells Tony Awards: ‘Don’t Be Stupid!’ They Reply: ‘Nyeh, Nyeh, Nyeh’”
Village Voice.com, Aug. 11: “Theater Criticism Reconfigured: The Internet (unlike the Tonys) lets everyone have their say – to a point. What would Wilde think?,” by Michael Feingold
The Arts Fuse, Aug. 17: “Theater Criticism: The Happy End of Business as Usual,” by Bill Marx
To: Nina Lannan, Chair, and Charlotte St. Martin, Executive Director, The Broadway League; and Theodore Chapin, Chairman, and Howard Sherman, Executive Director, American Theatre Wing
Now that the initial uproar has eased, the Executive Committee of the American Theatre Critics Association urges the Tony Management Committee to reconsider its recent decision to disenfranchise theater critics who vote for the Tony Awards.
Among the artists, craftspeople and producers who comprise most of that electorate, critics are the least biased voters with the broadest, best informed view of the theatrical scene. Their participation enhances the legitimacy of the Tonys, which otherwise would look parochial and self-congratulatory.
Critics are also natural participants. All around the country there are similar theatrical awards programs in which critics play a leading role; ATCA itself administers several. Disenfranchising critics from the Tonys fits no sensible rationale. Analogies to the Oscars and Emmys miss the point that theater is always alive and local — whereas movie and TV critics are many and widely dispersed, New York theater critics are limited and well placed to help celebrate Broadway.
If the unspoken aim is to reduce the number of free tickets producers must provide, it would be better to take the vote away from the editors and columnists on the 100-person first night list, leaving the genuine critics. Or just start anew with the New York Drama Critics Circle and add other critics as seems best. Of course, the greatest saving would be to refuse all voters’ requests for extra tickets or second viewings.
But these are housekeeping details, well within the competence of the Tony Committee. Whatever the perceived problem may be, tossing out the critics isn’t the answer. This is a time when the Fabulous Invalid and the beleaguered critical community should be making common cause for their art. Haven’t the American Theatre Wing and Broadway League always supported that ideal?
Christopher Rawson, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette; Chairman, ATCA Executive Committee
BACKGROUND: ATCA is the only national organization representing American theater critics. Founded in 1974 by (among others) Henry Hewes, Elliot Norton, Richard Coe, Edith Oliver and Dan Sullivan, it sponsors yearly conferences and symposia and sends members to the seminars and congresses of the International Association of Theatre Critics. It makes a recommendation for the regional theater Tony and votes on the Theater Hall of Fame, and through its Foundation, it annually awards the $40,000 Harold and Mimi Steinberg/ATCA and M. Elizabeth Osborn new play awards and $10,000 Francesca Primus Prize.