Results tagged “Michael Riedel” from critical difference

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.
May 21, 2009 1:18 PM | | Comments (1)
One could be forgiven for thinking, when reading the New York Post's Michael Riedel, that he has it in for the Tony Awards -- or at least for the people who run them. More than once recently, in his usual unrestrained manner, he's called the Broadway League's Charlotte St. Martin and the American Theatre Wing's Howard Sherman "apparatchiks."

But Riedel makes an important and perfectly fair point in his column today: "As Broadway prepares to celebrate itself next month, many theater people are increasingly concerned that writers, especially writers of nonmusical plays, are getting the bum's rush at the Tonys." In great part, that's because when the Tony for best play or best musical is announced, the writers get lost in a swarm of producers -- some of whom are not producers in the true sense but merely backers, people who gave large chunks of cash. At least the writers of musicals have their shot at the spotlight in the best-book and best-score categories, but for writers of straight plays, this is the only recognition they'll get.

"Why doesn't the playwright accept the award by himself?" wonders composer and lyricist Maury Yeston, whose shows include "Nine" and "Grand Hotel."

"The bookwriter does, the lyricist does, the orchestrator does, even the person who runs the sound system does. One would think that the progenitor of an original piece of theater would be the person on whom the award would evolve."

No one with any understanding of what a producer does would suggest that the role is unimportant or undeserving of recognition. Neither is the role of backer. But it's evidence of warped priorities when the writers, without whom no one would be standing there on Tony night, are deemed less important than the money people. Some of them, Riedel suggests, are thinking of the Tony spotlight from the start:

Veteran producers say that many of their biggest investors now have it written into their contracts that if the play wins the Tony, they get to share the stage with the author.

These, no doubt, are the same crass individuals who'd also try to take credit for a playwright's Pulitzer, a prize that has nothing whatsoever to do with producers or backers (though that point is frequently lost on them).

Here's the thing. You can always get another producer; you can always find another investor -- and you'll probably have to, given the crowd it takes to finance a Broadway show these days. Only in the most artistically doomed, too-many-cooks circumstances, however, is switching out a writer even a possibility. That's not going to happen to an original, single-author straight play. In the grand collaboration that is theater, the playwright simply is not expendable.

Playwrights, the most successful of whom earn only a pittance from the stage, are fond of saying they prefer working in the theater to doing more lucrative TV and film writing because the theater treats them with so much more respect. A glaring exception to that rule seems to be the moment at the Tony Awards that ought to be theirs more than anyone else's to celebrate.
May 20, 2009 3:52 PM | | Comments (0)
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