On the Truthiness of the Drama Desk and Certain Individuals


No doubt many of you arose this morning and rushed like mad, mad fiends to your computer to read what Michael Riedel had to say about critic Tony Philips’ rant regarding the nominating commmittee of the Drama Desk, which Tony sent to him and which Michael, dear Michael, has graciously reported on and partially published. Specifically, it’s what Philips has to say about the current chair of the nominating committee, whom I shall hereafter refer to as Said Chair, that has many people in the organization quivering.

Now, I don’t know Philips and I’ve never met him, and I’ve had at least one experience with him in which I had to question his ethics — he was telling press agents he was the theatre critic for the New York Press, when I am in that position. My editor, Jerry Portwood, had to call Tony to tell him to stop it. But whatever, I can’t get involved in that.

Story continues below.

But what Tony describes in his rant, insofar as the behavior of Said Chair, comports highly with reports I’ve received from other people over the years. For example, I’ve heard before that Said Chair will indeed pressure nominators into nominating what Said Chair wants nominated, even if it violates the express preferences of the seven-member nominating committee as a whole. In my own personal dealings with Said Chair, I can only suggest Said Chair is one of the least ethical and most emotionally imbalanced individuals working in our theatre today — an embarrassment to sense and sensibility. Among other things, everyone knows Said Chair and Said Chair’s dear husband hire the same people that they review in cabaret shows and on Broadway to perform in their concerts at Town Hall – and that many of these performers feel obligated to participate in those concert so as to ensure continued good reviews in other endeavors. Said Chair and Said Chair’s husband, in their bio, say they’ve written 47 books — but does anyone ever seem being sold anywhere. Well, I just did an Amazon search. Here they are.

I won’t even discuss the antics and mentally imbalanced hooliganism engaged in by Said Chair and Said Chair’s husband when my former boss fired them as cabaret critics for Back Stage. But to be sure, it was wildly unprofessional and personall unfair to me, as I didn’t hire them or edit them or have anything to do with them.

Story continues below.

I’m not saying Tony should or should not have been removed from the nominating committee of the Drama Desk; I wasn’t there and can’t speak to his own comportment. But insofar as his view of Said Chair, he’s at least, we know, in the ballpark.

Story continues below.

And when Riedel reported Philips saying that Said Chair “regularly engages in ‘witch hunts’ to ferret out committee members she suspects of leaking information to theater press agents,” I’ve heard about that, too. Indeed, I suspect that if Said Chair gets wind of this post, Said Chair will have one of Said Chair’s allies post a comment. We’ll see if I accept it.

Story continues below.

Meanwhile, Said Chair’s propaganda campaign in response to this Philips flap has kicked into gear. Apparently she persuaded the head of the Drama Desk to release the following statement, below. Please read with several grains of salt, ideally poured into an open wound.

Dear Drama Desk Members and Production Team colleagues:

Tomorrow’s NY Post will carry a Michael Riedel column reporting on a hysterical blast by Tony Philips in retaliation for our dismissing him from the Nominating Committee. He gave the Post a copy of his long resignation rant he plans to send to our membership. It is full of lies about the nominating process and is a vicious personal attack against Barbara Siegel. I’m giving you this heads up, and sending you the following comment that I have given Mr. Riedel in response to his request for one:

The unprofessional attitude that led to our dismissal of Tony Philips from our Nominating Committee is reflected by his telling the press of his resignation before sending it to the Drama Desk.

His attack on Barbara Siegel, the chair of our Nominating Committee, is outrageous and filled with untruths. I have worked with Barbara closely and have found her to be the most competent, dedicated, efficient and principled leader one would ever hope to find. Like the other dedicated nominators, she serves voluntarily. Because we cover Broadway, Off Broadway and Off-Off Broadway in competition in the same categories, the level of theater-going throughout the season to see more than 400 shows is a huge effort that also requires many discussion meetings by the nominators, especially as we get closer to the end of the season.

The nominators sacrifice much of their time in the spirit of carefully evaluating each show seen and are warned of this intensity when they agree to serve. Shows are short-listed by vote all season so they are kept to the forefront. It turned out that Philips couldn’t or wouldn’t cooperate to the extent needed and had been non-compliant since mid-winter. We hoped his attitude would change, but for the sake of smooth operation of the committee, dismissed him a few weeks ago as he was becoming increasingly uncooperative. He accuses Barbara Siegel of bias in evaluating shows. This is absolutely not the case but just the opposite. She is scrupulously fair in making certain that all decisions are taken by vote according to our long-standing nominating procedures. I know from personal experience on the committee last season that Tony’s accusations against Barbara are total nonsense and patently false. All decisions are made according to votes within the committee.

Given the necessity of the frequent meetings, it is our policy that the volunteers be served an appropriate lunch when they meet at mealtime. We have a fund for that sort of thing, as well as to pay for necessary equipment, and all is done with approval by our Board of Directors. I am confident that Philips’ long, hysterical letter to the membership will be seen as a biased and a disgruntled rant. I not only give a full vote of confidence to Barbara Siegel but salute her for her leadership.

I am also confident that when the Drama Desk nominations for the 2007-08 season are announced at the Friar’s Club on the morning of April 28, they will reflect the hard work of the dedicated nominators arrived at by the most meticulous of voting procedures and dedicated theatergoing.

William Wolf, President, The Drama Desk

By the way, name the last Off-Off-Broadway show that actually won a Drama Desk Award. OK, I’ll give you a minute. An hour. A long day. Well, time’s up. You can’t, because it almost never happens. So when Wolf boasts about Broadway and OB and OOB competing together on a level playing field, he’s full of crap. I’ve got a rant to write about this that I’ll save for some other time.

Story continues below.

Why do I remain a member of the organization? Because I hope to create some meaningful change from within. I haven’t commented on Drama Desk activities in years, but Philips’ breach of etiquette is an important signal to the community that the organization is very dysfunctional.

Story continues below.