Some thoughts on the Tonys based on having attended both the Drama League's Award Luncheon and the Press Reception for the Tony Nominees - both held at the Marriott Marquis ..
Taking into account that one was the actual award show and the other was merely a promotional opportunity, one thing is nonetheless readily apparent. The Drama League gets it and the Tonys do not. The "it" in question has nothing to do with the shows and talent that were nominated by both organizations. The real issue is understanding who these awards are for and how to best promote them to the public.
The Drama League is, essentially, a large and well-heeled group of folks who love the theater and by the sheer force of their numbers (and we mean dollars as much as we mean people), command the attention of every star, large and small, when they nominate you. The dais for their luncheon was so packed with today's theater greats that someone of the stature of Vanessa Redgrave went AWOL without anyone noticing until one of the other stars, sitting next to her, said in his speech how thrilled he was to be even sitting next to the place card for a legend such as Vanessa Redgrave.
Before their awards luncheon, The Drama League had a petting zoo sort of press opportunity during which the nominees were led around the four sides of a rectangular room. On one long edge they were bombarded by paparazzi, and on the other three sides they trudged through a gauntlet of press people peppering them with a combination of questions and congratulations. It was harried, somewhat haphazard, and mostly informal. We talked with everyone from Michael Cerveris to Stephanie J. Block, and from Brian F. O'Byrne to Christine Ebersole. The nice thing was that everyone was essentially accessible to the full range of media in the room. It might not have been the most organized way to go about it, but it was otherwise eminently fair.
After the press opportunity came the awards luncheon. It was too long – but so what? There were stars coming out of the woodwork; taking a short walk down one aisle we came upon Kevin Spacey – in the audience! We were thoroughly entertained because the event felt like a community honoring its own. And it got plenty of press attention despite the fact that it wasn't reaching out and trying to be something bigger than the New York Theater. Because it was an essentially closed club, a lot of outsiders wanted to get in. It felt (and was) exclusive and important.
This brings us to the Tony Nominees Press Reception. You never saw an organization try so hard and make such a hash of it. Set at the top of the Marriott Marquis in the round, revolving restaurant – that, thankfully, was not turning – journalists of every stripe were set up to receive the nominees who were to circle round and meet them all. In its attempt to be important and reach out to a wider media – particularly broadcast – the Tonys lost sight of their sense of community.
This is not a complaint about stars being trundled past the dot.com press in favor of TV. We get that. We understand that. Besides, we had the opportunity to talk with all sorts of major nominees such as Groff and Gallagher (Spring Awakening), Debra Monk (Curtains), Gavin Lee (Mary Poppins), Charlotte D'Amboise (A Chorus Line), Orfeh (Legally Blonde) and many others. No, the problem was the very venue, itself, that essentially isolated everyone; we saw only those who were on the same little stretch of curve along the wall that we were on. No one else.
We daresay there were more stars at the Drama League Luncheon than there were at the Tony Nominees Reception so it should have been easier to see and talk to the Tony Nominees but that was not the case. In its attempt to be bigger and reach out to an audience that probably doesn't know the players and cares less about Broadway, the Tony folks are, to some extent, ignoring their core audience. Of course, they'll get that core audience whether they court them or not, but we suspect that the Tonys could learn something from the Drama League. Make the Tonys about the theater community and the rest of the world will want to get in. It's that old Groucho Marx joke: "I wouldn't want to join a club that would have me as a member." If the Tonys were a little more proud and aloof, a larger percentage of people would want to see why it's so great.
-- Barbara and Scott Siegel