Results tagged “Tony Awards” from critical difference

There are several different ways to crunch the 2009 Tony Awards numbers, but each of them strongly suggests that Broadway remains a man's world.

If you look at last night's winners in all 31 categories, including the special noncompetitive Tonys bestowed by the Tony Awards Administration Committee, women won 25.8 percent of the time. Wretched, yes, but things get worse from there.

If you consider only the 27 competitive categories in which Tony voters cast their ballots -- and if you figure, for the purposes of this number-crunching, that it was Liza Minnelli ("Liza's at The Palace") rather than her producers who won the award for special theatrical event -- the figure goes down to 22.2 percent.

And what if you take out the gender-designated categories, the ones in which actors are pitted against actors and actresses against actresses? That's when it gets very ugly indeed. Of the 19 competitive categories that aren't restricted by gender, women won two: a paltry 10.5 percent. That's with Liza still in the equation. (Whenever someone asks whether we still need separate awards for actors and actresses, my head quietly explodes. This is not the only reason, but it's one of them.)

A cynic would say the Tonys don't matter, but that ignores both the impetus for and the effect of the awards: money. It's not an artistic notion; it's a realistic one. Those statuettes translate into jobs, which matter quite a lot to people trying to make a living in the theater. Last night's winners suddenly have loads of people lined up wanting to work with them. And those winners are, by and large, men.

Yasmina Reza walked away with one of the evening's biggest plums, the best-play award for "God of Carnage," but she was the only female playwright among the nominees, and one of the very few female playwrights on Broadway this season. Nominated plays in the best-revival category were all penned by men.

In the eight design categories, women won nothing -- not a huge surprise, given that costume designers Jane Greenwood ("Waiting for Godot") and Nicky Gillibrand ("Billy Elliot") were the only females among the 33 nominees, making up a whopping 6 percent of the field.

Women fared better as nominees in the directing categories, which is a measure of some progress, even though they didn't win: Phyllida Lloyd ("Mary Stuart"), in her second Broadway outing, snagged one of the four play-directing nods, while Broadway newcomers Kristin Hanggi ("Rock of Ages") and Diane Paulus ("Hair") got two of the four nominations for best direction of a musical.

Elsewhere, Karole Armitage ("Hair") filled one of the four choreography slots, while Dolly Parton ("9 to 5") and Jeanine Tesori ("Shrek") were nominated for original score.

Is the rarity of women among the nominees and winners reflective of an absence of talent, a lack of desire to work on Broadway, or a scarcity of women graduating from the playwriting, directing, design or composition programs in American conservatories? Of course not. But compare the credits in a Broadway Playbill with the credits in a program for an off-Broadway, regional or off-off-Broadway show. Chances are you'll see more women where the pay and prestige are lower.

Yesterday afternoon, for example, I went to Ensemble Studio Theatre's annual marathon of one-act plays. EST is a famous incubator of talent, both established and emerging, and it's a valuable credit in an artist's bio. But it's hardly lucrative work. Six of the 10 plays in this year's marathon are written by women (among them Kia Corthron and Leslie Ayvazian); seven of the 10 directors are women. Of 37 roles, 22 -- 59 percent -- are played by women. The two costume designers, the set designer and one of the two lighting designers are all female.

Numbers like those simply aren't seen on Broadway, as a stroll through the Internet Broadway Database readily illustrates. It's no wonder that women win so few Tonys, given how little high-profile, high-paying work they're hired to do.

Those figures won't improve until women get more Broadway gigs in the first place. As always, however, the deck is stacked in favor of Tony winners and people with Broadway shows already on their CVs. Credits beget credits, and when awards are won, work is sure to follow. Which makes it a whole lot easier to earn a living -- a privilege that shouldn't be disproportionately reserved, even inadvertently, for the guys.
June 8, 2009 2:51 PM | | Comments (5)
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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