How 'Bout a Tony for Best Script?
Or, as a friend suggested this morning, best-written play. Whatever the wording might be, the addition of a Tony Award that specifically recognized the playwright's work would right a wrong built into the current system: letting producers eclipse playwrights during their only moment of Tony glory, when the award for best play is announced.
That producers will ever be kept from mobbing the stage -- and hogging the microphone -- is pretty much unimaginable. But there isn't any real reason that the best-play and best-musical awards shouldn't recognize productions as a whole, just as the best-picture Oscar does in film. What's missing from the Tonys is an award for the authors of straight plays, which are especially plentiful on Broadway in these stripped-down times.
Given the direction in which the awards ceremony has been moving, such a change seems unlikely. As Dramatists Guild president Stephen Schwartz pointed out to the New York Post's Michael Riedel, two awards for writers, best book of a musical and best revival of a play, were left out of the broadcast last year. Those should be reinstated.
Might playwrights have an ally in one of the main overseers of the Tonys? American Theatre Wing executive director Howard Sherman was the executive director of the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center in Connecticut before he moved to New York. The O'Neill is most famous as the home of the National Playwrights Conference, which during Sherman's tenure was run by James Houghton, the founding artistic director of off-Broadway's playwright-centered Signature Theatre Company. Sherman likes playwrights; he's a fan, in fact. Conceivably, he could choose to be a champion for writers on Broadway.
The Tonys' latest move suggests, however, that attention is being paid to exactly the wrong details. Bloomberg's Jeremy Gerard reports that the Tony Awards have dumped Lutz & Carr, the small accounting firm that's tallied their ballots for over half a century, in favor of accounting behemoth KPMG LLP.
The change was made in the hopes of bringing a higher profile to the Tony Awards telecast, according to Alan Wasser, an executive with the awards. ... Asked what difference the change would bring, Wasser said, "It gives the Tonys the imprimatur of credibility."
Uh ... what? That's the kind of move an organization would be smart to make if it had fallen into scandal, but that's not the case here. In a bad economy, when it's even more of a shame for anyone who's doing good work to lose business, particularly to a much larger competitor, it just looks cold. Also wrongheaded. When the aim is to make a show-biz publicity splash, the best game plan almost certainly has nothing to do with getting new accountants to add up the votes.
Writers probably aren't the answer to the question of how to make a splash, either. But if the Tonys are looking to enhance their credibility, they might try giving playwrights their moment in the spotlight.