#TonysSoDiverse

In the wake of the 2016 Academy Awards and the #OscarsSoWhite debacle, many are looking to the Tonys this season as a potential beacon of light in the way of diversity.

Now, this isn’t to say that this season is the be-all-end-all for diverse stage works, and I know, like most other theatre fans, that the Tonys have had the same discriminatory history as the Academy Awards and the Emmys. But, when all four major acting awards in the musical camp could be won by actors of color, some credit is still due.

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Shuffle Along

Out of all of the eligible plays and musicals this season, 9 out of 36 staged central plots involving characters of color as the protagonists, and another 6 featured actors of color in general major and supporting roles. Again, the majority of focus is still spent on white stories and actors, but when I think about what the eligibility list looked like even 10 years ago, this is a step in the right direction.

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The cast of Waitress: The Musical

Though many shows featuring diverse casts were eligible, there were some shocking nominations left by the wayside in favor of less diverse works.

Allegiance, which opened to great critical reviews and starring the likes of Lea Salonga and George Takei, received no nominations from the awards committee. Before the announcement ceremony, I was sure that the musical would at least earn some acting nominations, as well as perhaps a costume nod or best book nomination. What was nominated in it’s place was not just surprising to me, but to a lot of people.

Having listened to the soundtrack and knowing that the story was based on George Takei’s own experiences with the Japanese-American WWII internment camps, Allegiance was a story previously left untold in an industry (and country for that matter) that largely ignores the narratives of Asian-Americans. Besides Philippa Soo in Hamilton, no other Asian-American actor or creative received a nomination. I may risk repeating myself, but there is still clear work to be done when it comes to nominations as well as the stories created on Broadway.

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George Takei, Lea Salonga, and Telly Leung in Allegiance

But, one thing I have noticed is the diversity in the creative fields, as well as diversity beyond race. This season saw women of color (Danai Gurira and Liesl Tommy) nominated for directing, and writing (Eclipsed). Clint Ramos’ nomination for costume design, Sergio Trujillo’s nod for choreography, and Lin-Manuel Miranda’s recognition for book and original score shone a well deserved light on the men of the Latino community.

Across the board, women of all races have been nominated in almost every creative category, from Sara Bareilles for original score, to Ann Roth in costume design, to Natasha Katz and Peggy Eisenhauer with their respective nods for lighting design. Michael Arden, a member of the LGBTQ community, garnered a best director nomination, and though his revival of Spring Awakening received no specific acting nods, it was still nominated for best revival. This means that for the first time, an actress in a wheelchair and an ensemble of deaf actors has been recognized by the awards committee.

It’s clear to see that the trend of recognizing and awarding diversity is on the upward climb and has been placed in the spotlight. Even with just the nominations, the course is set in the right direction, and I hope that the award ceremony itself continues on this path. Here’s to hoping that the next few seasons will offer even more.

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Jennifer Hudson and Cybthia Erivo in The Color Purple

A Deeper Look At The Special Tony Awards

Every Award season, the Tony Awards voting committee gives four “Special” Tony Awards. Often, these are the first awards to be decided, and most are granted before the actual televised ceremony.

So what are these awards, and how can someone be qualified for them?


 

Special Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement in Theatre

The longest-running non-competitive Tony, this award was established in 1947 and has been awarded consistently into the present season.

This award is largely presented to individuals in recognition of their “body of lifetime work”, although some partners and groups have also won the award. Most recipients are still living upon receiving this award, but many are given posthumously, as was the case with Brock Pemberton in 1950 (as the co-founder of the American Theatre Wing).

2016 recipients:

Sheldon Harnick (Songwriter, librettist, composer)

Marshall W. Mason (Founding Artistic Director: Circle Repertory Company, director)

 

Past recipients:

1970: Barbara Streisand (Star Of The Decade)

1999: Arthur Miller (Lifetime Achievement)

2008: Stephen Sondheim (Lifetime Achievement in Theatre)

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Mandy Patankin accepting on behalf of Sondheim at the 62nd Tony Awards


 

Regional Theatre Tony Award

Initially given in 1948, this Tony became an established award in 1976 and is given to regional theatres that display “outstanding productions and promotion of theatrical arts.” This award is the only to include a monetary prize, which amounts to a $25,000 grant.

The established goal of this award is to promote the creation of new theatre, and no theatre has ever won the award twice. The most common theatre types to win the award are repertory theatres and Shakespeare companies.

2016 Recipient:

Paper Mill Playhouse (Millburn, New Jersey)

 

Past recipients:

1997: Berkeley Repertory Theatre

2008: Chicago Shakespeare Theater

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Winner at the 62nd Tony Awards


 

Isabelle Stevenson Tony Award

This award is named for the late president of the American Theatre Wing, Isabelle Stevenson, and is the youngest of the Special Tonys, first being awarded in 2009.

The Isabelle Stevenson Tony is given to “an individual from the theatre community who has made a substantial contribution of volunteered time and effort on behalf of one or more humanitarian, social service or charitable organizations, regardless of whether such organizations relate to the theatre.”

2016 Recipient:

Brian Stokes Mitchell (for his work with The Actors Fund)

 

Past recipients:

2013: Larry Kramer for his work as one of the founders of the Gay Men’s Health Crisis.

2014: Rosie O’Donnell for her work and commitment to arts education in New York City Public Schools

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Rosie O’Donnell accepting her award at the 68th Tony Awards


 

Tony Honors for Excellence in Theatre

Created in 1990, this award  was designed to recognize “institutions, individuals, or organizations that have demonstrated extraordinary achievement in theatre” but who are not eligible to compete in any of the current competitive Tony Award categories.

2016 Recipients:

Seth Gelblum (Theatre and Entertainment Lawyer)

Joan Lader (Vocal Coach)

Sally Ann Parsons (Costume Design/Tech)

 

Past recipients:

1993: Broadway Cares/Equity Fights Aids

1995: National Endowment For The Arts

2013: Sophia Gennusa, Oona Laurence, Bailey Ryon and Milly Shapiro, the four actresses who share the lead in Matilda: the Musical (awarded jointly to all four girls)

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“The Four Matildas” after their Matilda: The Musical medley at the 67th Tony Awards

 

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