GUEST BLOG by Tim Donahue: What a strange 100 years it has been for theater prizes!

In 1918, the first Pulitzer Prize for Best Drama went to a forgotten—and forgettable—comedy entitled “Why Marry?” Two years later the prize went to a female playwright, because the Jury thought it would be a “handsome” thing to give the prize to a woman, although they wrote, “It is not a great play but it is original and interesting.”

The Pulitzer Drama Prize was so often laughable that in 1935 a group of Broadway reviewers formed the New York Drama Critics Circle expressly to give better awards. One of the founders, Brooks Atkinson, summed up the Circle’s accomplishment almost thirty years after its beginning, writing, “The average taste of the Critics Circle is no more discerning than the average taste of the Pulitzer judges. Neither the Circle nor the Pulitzer prizes can be intimidated by genius; both of them have on occasion preferred commonplace plays to classics.”

In the late 1940s, the Tony Awards began as a small event for the theater community sponsored by the American Theatre Wing, a charitable group from the war years. The presentation happened at a banquet with dancing in a hotel ballroom, with the prizes chosen by an ad hoc handful of people. In the first year, a Tony was given to Vincent Sardi, Sr., in thanks for Sardi’s Restaurant!

Twenty years later the Wing was in financial trouble and it joined with the Broadway League to continue the Tony Awards. Within a year, the ceremony morphed into a big television event. That changed everything about the Tonys and a lot about Broadway theater.

Still, being on television hasn’t prevented the Tony Awards from making major gaffes.

There have been past seasons when the resulting prizes, Tony Awards and others, can still provoke healthy argument. For example:

Harvey won over The Glass Menagerie
Hello, Dolly! won over Funny Girl
The Music Man won over West Side Story
Nine won over Dreamgirls
The Sound of Music won over Gypsy

These competitive years make one wonder what best play and best musical awards mean.

Today, there are six major, very different organizations giving best play and best musical awards, for diverse reasons, chosen by very unalike procedures. It feels great if your show gets one, but does it have any sure, lasting meaning?

In short: so many prizes; so little to celebrate. Even after 100 years.

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Tim Donahue is the author most recently of Playing for Prizes: America’s Awards for Best Play and Best Musical. He is the co-author of Stage Money: The Business of the Professional Theater and three other books on theater.

Broadway Grosses w/e 4/8/2018: At least the sun is shining on the box office!

The following are the Broadway grosses for the week ending April 8, 2018.
The Broadway grosses are courtesy of The Broadway League
Read more here:

Podcast Episode 153 – Tony Winner & Pulitzer Prize Finalist and Showrunner Warren Leight

My wife and I spend a lot of time with Warren Leight.

You probably do too . . .

Because we, like you (admit it), watch a lot of Law & Order SVU and Warren was a writer and showrunner for years.

Before that, though he was a finalist for the big P for his fantastic play, Side Man.  

Warren is one of the few playwrights that can go so easily from stage to screen . . . and that’s all about how he started writing in the first place.  See he started because he wanted to be a sports writer, and then . . . wait . . . I’m giving it away.  Just listen to the podcast and hear Warren talk about:

  • How a lie about loving horror movies led to him writing one . . . and why you might want to fib a little too.
  • Why he binge writes.
  • The importance of joining a Writer’s Group and how it helped him.
  • Why the deadlines of TV help make him a better writer . . . and how you can use deadlines to accomplish your goals, whether you have a TV network demanding a script or not.
  • How he wrote Side Man without realizing he was writing it . . . and what it was like after he won The Tony (and it’s not what you think).

Warren’s path to success is such a lesson in the grind, creativity and flexibility it takes to be successful in this business and in any business, and this podcast could give you a map for your own.

Click here for the link to my podcast with Warren!

Listen to it on iTunes here. (And if you like the podcast, give it a great review, while you’re there!)

Download it here.

 

Should actors be “required” to stage door?

In 1991, I moved to New York City and while making my way to my tap class on 53rd St., I discovered my first Stage Door.

It was the Broadway Theatre’s SD and Miss Saigon was playing at the time.

“So that’s how all the actors I admire so much get into the building,” I thought.  “Wow they walk through that very . . . ” and before I could finish the thought, the actor playing Thuy, Barry K. Bernal, stepped up to the stage door to cross the magical threshold from the street to the stage, and prepare for his matinee.

“Have a good show,” I mumbled, a bit nervous to be speaking to an actual Broadway star.

He smiled, grateful for being recognized, thanked me and in he went.

As you can tell, I’ll never forget it.

A lot has changed since then.  Unfortunately, Barry K. Bernal passed away at the tender age of 31 years old, three years after I saw him at that Door.

And Stage Doors are no longer empty, vacant areas where actors just come and go as they please.

Now, fans flock to the doors, before and especially after each show, for a chance for a sighting, an autograph and maybe even a few kind words from the stars they admire.

One of the great things about the theater is that our stars are so accessible.  You can’t “stage door” a football game or a rock concert in the same way you can a Broadway show.  It’s just not logistically possible.

And with Broadway booming, the crowds around the doors of hit shows often spill into the street, as selfies get snapped and autographs get signed by the hundreds.

You can’t buy that type of promotion . . . because when people fall in love with actors, they also fall in love with the show they’re in.

Last fall, “stage dooring” reached a tipping point when a controversy erupted when Ben Platt, who was practically puking up his heart onto the stage at Dear Evan Hansen every night, said that there were some nights that he just couldn’t do it . . . and still deliver the type of performance the next night’s audience paid to see.

And oh, the tweetlash that he received, including one “fan,” calling him an “a**hole” and “garbage.”

And I’ve seen plenty of other comments on message boards and across the twittersphere hating on actors for wanting to save their voices, and keep their energy up, by skipping out on what can be an added hour or more to their day.

Actors in Broadway Shows are not only more accessible than any other “celebrity” out there, but in my experience, our actors WANT to be more accessible than any other performers out there.  And as fans and Producers we should be so thankful that they’re willing to give that extra hour or more that it can take to sign every Playbill and take every photo before they can head home.

And, of course, as Ben unfortunately learned, they take more of the heat than the actual show if they choose to opt out of appearing for their fans.

So if that’s what they decide, we must trust that they know best, and they are doing it to protect what is most important . . . the show and themselves.

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Are you an actor?  Read one of my most popular posts . . . My 10 Audition Tips for Actors by clicking here.

 

 

Broadway Grosses w/e 4/1/2018: The Easter Bunny Brings Good Business to Broadway.

The following are the Broadway grosses for the week ending April 1, 2018.
The Broadway grosses are courtesy of The Broadway League
Read more here:

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