Critics Chair Tells Tony Awards: “Don’t Be Stupid!” They Reply: “Nyeh, Nyeh, Nyeh.”
Christopher Rawson, who chairs the executive committee of the American Theatre Critics Association, has sent a letter to four chieftains of the Tony Awards, who decided last month to disenfranchise first-string critics of their voting status.
There has been no formal reply so far; certainly we know there has been no public reply. The letter is addressed to Nina Lannan and Charlotte St. Martin, chair and executive director, respectively, of the Broadway League; and Theodore Chapin and Howard Sherman, chair and executive director, respectively, of the American Theatre Wing.
Meanwhile, the Clyde Fitch Report has learned from an anonymous source that a meeting held yesterday of ATPAM — the Association of Theatrical Press Agents and Managers — was attended by St. Martin, who made it clear that critics will never be reinstated. Well, next year, maybe, because one never says never. But most likely never.
Critics had better make plans, as Michael Reidel of the New York Post has suggested, to give the Tony Awards just the kind of press they neither want nor need. Still, how do you marginalize what has already been marginalized?
The text of Rawson’s letter reads as follows:
To: Nina Lannan, Chair, and Charlotte St. Martin, Executive Director, The Broadway League; and Theodore Chapin, Chairman, and Howard Sherman, Executive Director, American Theatre Wing
Now that the initial uproar has eased, the Executive Committee of the American Theatre Critics Association urges the Tony Management Committee to reconsider its recent decision to disenfranchise the theater critics who vote for the Tony Awards.
Among the artists, craftspeople and producers who comprise most of that electorate, critics are the least biased voters with the broadest, best informed view of the theatrical scene. Their participation increases the legitimacy of the Tonys, which otherwise would look parochial and self-congratulatory.
Critics are also natural participants. All around the country there are similar theatrical awards programs in which critics play a leading role; ATCA itself administers several. Disenfranchising critics from the Tonys fits no sensible rationale. Analogies to the Oscars and Emmys miss the point that theater is always alive and local — whereas movie and TV critics are many and widely dispersed, New York theater critics are limited and well placed to help celebrate Broadway.
If the unspoken aim is to reduce the number of free tickets producers must provide, it would be better to take the vote away from the editors and columnists on the 100-person first night list, leaving the genuine critics. Or just start anew with the New York Drama Critics Circle and add other critics as seems best. Of course, the greatest saving would be to refuse all voters’ requests for extra tickets or second viewings.
But these are housekeeping details, well within the competence of the Tony Committee. Whatever the perceived problem may be, tossing out the critics isn’t the answer. This is a time when the Fabulous Invalid and the beleaguered critical community should be making common cause for their art. Haven’t the American Theatre Wing and Broadway League always supported that ideal?
Christopher Rawson, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Chairman, ATCA Executive Committee
Leonard Jacobs is the founder and editor emeritus of The Clyde Fitch Report.