Don't Get Mad, Get Organized

Maybe you thought the muted furor surrounding the Tony Awards' decision to eject critics from its voters' ranks died away. After all, it's not like it was such an important decision anyway, right? And it's not like it affected that many people, right? Well wrong. It affects all of you, and by you, I don't just mean those of you who clicked through to this blog. I mean you as consumers of American culture. 

Today, American Theatre Critics Association Chairman Christopher Rawson sent a letter to the Broadway League and American Theatre Wing alerting them that we will not go quietly (though we're pretty polite, considering). Our ranks might be thinner, but if there's one thing critics know how to do well, it's bitch loudly about something we don't like. I'm a member of ATCA, and if you're a critic, you ought to be too. There's strength in numbers, and--being a bookish lot, who've spat out an awful lot of bully sand lately--we could really use those numbers to help the cause.

If you're not a critic, you know you read our reviews, and there might even be a critic or two whose opinion you respect. Send your own damn letter here and here and tell these chumps that a bunch of directors (or producers, or whatever you're not) voting for their friends does not a credible award make. After all, when your mommy told you you were the best one onstage, it was nice, but you didn't really believe her, did you? Did you?

As goes Broadway, so goes the nation, at least within a few years, when national tours begin hitting the road. Without critics slipping through the Tonys' highly entrenched voter ranks, plenty of editorials on the subject assert that the plays and musicals you'd get out here in the hinterlands would be an endless parade of Wickeds, and Legally Blondes--which they are anyway, and p.s., I liked Legally Blonde--but with no hope of a Rent or Spring Awakening surging forward to help electrify regional audiences and expand our dramatic expectations. 

Listen, don't do it for me, I only get to New York once or twice a year anyway. Do it for the benefit of our theater. Because that's what's really hurt by this decision.
August 7, 2009 4:35 PM | | Comments (3)

3 Comments

Not only should critics be banned from voting for awards, they should have to apply to come see plays, and each critic should be allowed in on a case by case basis.

There is no more disconcerting problem in the professional theatre than knowing that the theatre critic of a local paper was given the job because they no longer could or would write about gardening or cooking.

Theatre professionals spend a lifetime invested in a craft. Many theatre critics spend their lifetimes never really knowing anything about the craft.

As a fan of wooden sailboats and boat building, it is not even a question that the writer of articles about the intricacies of hull shape and sail configuration in magazines has actually sailed a boat before.

Thanks, the links are fixed now.

And no correction needed. Your argument is exactly the critics' argument. The Tonys' decision makes no sense, unless its real purpose is to encourage personal bias. I can't see what conflict of interest lies in critics' ability to offer our opinion--positive, negative or in between--on a show. Last I checked, that was our job description, and it was based on a whole lot less bias than, say, the opinion of a given show's investor.

(Just a minor technical point, the first link in your post returns a blank.)

Being on the other side of the pond, I admit this Tony award issue had passed me by. I found the NYT article and was struck by the following paragraph:

"An official close to the committee, who was not authorized to discuss the committee’s private deliberations and therefore spoke on condition of anonymity, said the change was made because the committee concluded that it was a conflict of interest for journalists to vote on Tony contenders when they have a platform to champion a show in news and entertainment media."

I've no doubt missed a large part of the back story to this, so correct me where I'm wrong, but I still fail to see where the conflict of interest actually lies.

Surely the whole point about being on an award committee is to be (constructively) critical about the award contenders, and who better than the theatre critics to do this.

Surely also in the past, critics have left their individual media allegiances at the committee door? And on top of this the critics form 1/8 of the committee, hardly a majority!

The whole point of a jury is to have a wide range of opinion, not a wide range of consensus. If there's no critical counterpoint in the committee, isn't it at the detriment of both the public and the artists since the bar has now been lowered?

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