The Tony Awards broadcast continued a long-standing protocol this year. Namely that numerous awards were given prior to the CBS broadcast, with clips shown after breaks — you know, when everyone in your viewing party is rushing back from the bathroom or filling their libations. Many people on Twitter, for instance, were surprised and unhappy that James Earl Jones’ acceptance speech for a Lifetime Achievement Award was not aired.
Among these honorees are the designers, people without whom the worlds of each production, we can all agree, would not exist. Who can separate the experience of Natasha, Pierre and The Great Comet of 1812 from its environmental scenery (for which Mimi Lien won a Tony) and lighting design (for which Bradley King also won a Tony)? Who doesn’t feel the significance and the magnificence of Dolly Levi’s costumes (for which Santo Loquasto won a Tony) against the grand staircase, orchestra swelling? Most designers don’t want you to walk away remembering the shrinking spotlight as the protagonist discovers her true calling at the end of Act 1, but you never forget how it made you jump up at the end of Act 2 to give a standing ovation. Design in the theater is inherently more subtle. As noted sound designer Abe Jacob said in this interview last year regarding the Tony Awards controversial decision to ignore giving honors for his craft:
The thing that you don’t see is always the best.
It’s easy to dismiss the awards that are not included by CBS; there is only so much time that a major TV network can really set aside based on ratings and advertising — and, let’s be honest, acting and production are always flashier categories. Yet some members of the Tony Awards Administration Committee admitted in 2014 that a major reason for removing the sound design category (since reinstated amid industry uproar) is because they did not feel qualified to judge it, that sound design was not so much a creative endeavor as a technical one. That removal, and the reasoning behind it, brought to light how little many of the people responsible for the awards understand design as a key (and equal) player in the emotional journey of the productions they celebrate every year.
There is tradition, there is necessity and then there is something called a class system. Considering that casting directors are trying to unionize, and Hamilton actors had to fight for a bigger piece of the financial pie, things are changing — slowly. It’s time for the Tonys to re-evaluate what they say to artists by not including them in the live broadcast. Period.
So here’s to the Tony-winners whose unaired acceptance speeches were shown only in clips — and who deserve far more from the American Theatre Wing, the Broadway League and CBS:
Best Scenic Design of a Play: Nigel Hook, The Play That Goes Wrong
Best Scenic Design of a Musical: Mimi Lien, Natasha, Pierre and The Great Comet of 1812
Best Costume Design of a Musical: Santo Loquasto, Hello, Dolly!
Best Lighting Design of a Play: Christopher Akerlind, Indecent
Best Lighting Design of a Musical: Bradley King, Natasha, Pierre and The Great Comet of 1812
Best Choreography: Andy Blankenbuehler, Bandstand
Best Orchestrations: Alex Lacamoire, Dear Evan Hansen
Special Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Theater: James Earl Jones
Regional Theater Tony Award: Dallas Theater Center
Isabelle Stevenson Tony Award: Baayork Lee