Empty Chair at the Tony Awards

By Gold, Sylviane | Dance Magazine, July 2001 | Go to article overview

Empty Chair at the Tony Awards


Gold, Sylviane, Dance Magazine


AS YOU READ THIS, YOU HAVE A SINGULAR ADVANTAGE OVER THE PERSON WHO WROTE IT: YOU ALREADY KNOW WHO WON THIS YEAR'S TONY AWARDS. IF YOU'RE A REAL THEATER HOUND, ON JUNE 3 YOU WATCHED THE PRESENTATION OF THE first ten Tonys on the shrewdly produced, commercial-free PBS hour (the one that demonstrates an actual interest in how theater is created). Then you switched to CBS for the big categories (the ones that remind viewers of the Oscars and Emmys) as well as the marketing portion of the broadcast, which shows the network audience what they're missing when they watch TV instead of going out to the theater.

Whether you sighed or cheered as the judgments of the 700 or so Tony voters--and I'm one of them--were announced, there was at least the satisfaction of knowing that the tribe had spoken. As I write, the nominations are still a few weeks away, and I can only speculate about how the choreography category will shake out. Nominations will certainly be forthcoming for Susan Stroman's surehanded spoofing in The Producers of beloved dance moments from Fiddler on the Roof and A Chorus Line, and for Susan Marshall's nostalgia-laced Follies numbers. But the nominating committee has plenty of other possibilities, from the traditional style of Bells Are Ringing to the novelty of Blast! Whichever direction they take, one thing is certain: The committee members will make their decisions without any input from a dance expert.

The twenty- to thirty-member Tony nominating committee changes from year to year. But it is always drawn from the ranks of theater professionals and represents a wide array of experience: academics, administrators, and practitioners of the theatrical arts and crafts. For the second year in a row, though, there's been no one from the dance world on the committee. While campaigning and deal making are forbidden by the rules, the actual voting of the nominations is preceded by a two-hour discussion period in which the experts can let their opinions be known. The last dance person to participate in that process, Marge Champion, says the talk time was invaluable: "It was like a college education to be on that committee," she says. "I learned so much!" She points to another longtime member of the nominating committee, the costume designer Donald Brooks. "He could see things in certain costumes that none of the rest of us knew about--it made you think not necessarily about how lavish they were, but about the construction. …

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