Most American moviegoers tune in every year for the most-watched event in movies, the Academy Awards. If someone’s a music buff, chances are they turn the TV set to the Grammys every year to see the biggest chart-toppers of the season. And for the Broadway nerds among us, the big event happens at the beginning of June with the American Theatre Wing’s Tony Awards. While the Tonys may be less popular than the other mainstream award shows, they recently celebrated their 72nd year of celebrating the finest live actors and actress in America. The broadcast involves not only speeches and cheesy jokes from the hosts but also fantastic live performances. Radio City Music Hall fills with the best Broadway has to offer in a celebration of the theatre community.
The history of the Tony Awards is an interesting one that starts with some fierce suffragettes. They are named after Antoinette Perry who worked as an actress, director, and producer. Shortly after she passed away, the American Theatre Wing hosted a great party to celebrate the amazing work in the theatre that year. What started out as gatherings of around 1,000 individuals at annual galas eventually grew into the large event we know today. The first televised event was in 1967 and it lasted an hour. Today CBS devotes 3 hours to the broadcast, and it is shown around the globe.
What are the Awards?
Where can you get a doctor, an auto accident attorney, and an 18th-century king in one room? In a room full of actors and actresses of course! (Trust us: if it’s out there, there’s a play about it.) While acting nominees receive a multitude of awards during this ceremony, there are several others given out as well. Originally, there were ten awards given out for terrific achievements in acting and overall production value. Today, there are 25 awards plus special Tonys to reward success in regional theatre and lifetime achievements. Every year, the broadcast works to acknowledge all the members of this collaborative art form. There is talk about the need to add categories for playwriting and stage management. A lot of the great work happening in theatre happens behind the scenes, where audience members may not even realize how important and difficult those jobs are.
The diversity in theatre is vast. In order for a show to run well, several roles need to be filled, and not just the ones on stage. Behind the scenes, there is a multitude of people who never end up in front of an audience, but their work speaks for itself. These are stage technicians — the costumers, lighting designers, sound engineers, dramaturgs, directors, stage managers, house managers, marketing team members, makeup and hair designers, and many other people who make a show run. During their big night at the Tonys, these individuals receive the recognition they greatly deserve with special awards in costuming, orchestration, lighting design, etc. Because of this unique collaboration, Tony award winners can come from all different backgrounds. Whether someone learned their trade at automotive & diesel technology college in NY or studied acting at Juilliard, there is a place for them in this community.
Enjoy the Party
Just like the Oscars or the Grammys, there is always a big buzz around the Tonys for the theatre community. Overall, it is simply a big party for artists to come together and celebrate their work and their art. Most people may not recognize as many of the red carpet guests at this award show, because Broadway stars tend to not be as hounded by the mainstream media. There seems to always be a more relaxed energy around this event. Maybe it is the live performances or the corny songs and dances the hosts come up with, but, to the viewer, the Tonys seem like one giant party. Perhaps the stars made a stop at the liquor store in Lawrenceville, NJ to get the party started early? Or even to calm their own nerves! Once the event itself is over, all the stars gather at the Plaza Hotel to celebrate their success without the pressure of waiting to hear their name called.
There is a way to get involved at home as well! Many at home viewers have started hosting Tony parties of their own. These celebrations can include show-specific cocktails, Playbill cookies, and, of course, at-home ballots to pick the winners. Even if the guests haven’t made a trip out to New York to see every single show nominated, there’s no need to worry. The Tony website works hard to provide a synopsis and short clip of every show nominated, so anyone can be informed about the current shows and nominees. Plus, everyone can enjoy live performances from all of the nominated musicals during the broadcast. Anyone can enjoy the Tony Awards, from a student in an Associate Degree in Nursing program to the 80-year-old grandmother to that crazy high school drama kid. It is sure to be an entertaining night, even at someone’s own home!
What Makes Live Theatre Different?
Some people ask if and how the theatre community varies from the actors and technicians in Hollywood. The main factor that makes theatre different is that everything is live. Those “blooper reels” watch on the special features DVD of a film? Those don’t exist in theatre. If there is a blooper onstage, the team just has to roll with it. And this perfect opportunity for imperfection and growth makes theatre so compelling. Live actors bring something new and different to a performance every night, so no audience ever sees the same exact show.
There is an ease involved in Broadway, and the actors are humble and down-to-earth. Unlike famous movie stars, they don’t have to deal with as much crazy paparazzi and being bombarded with fans while walking down the street. In New York, many of these stars simply walk out of the theatre at the end of the day and head home. No extra hassle: just an artist enjoying a walk home after a hard days work. There is a humble camaraderie surrounding the community of theatre artists. They genuinely lift each other up and support each other’s dreams and craft. These artists understand the role they play onstage and the role they have in creating change and inspiring future generations. And the Tony Awards is a beautiful celebration of this light.