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Tony Awards

June 15th, 2008 2 comments

I have come to the realization that I can be quite easily outraged. I’ve discussed this topic before, but in the context of playwriting and some of the choices of subject matter that I’ve made: revolving around injustice. I’ve got quite a fierce sense of fairness and the accompanying anger that goes along with what I perceive as being unfair. Of course, sometimes the things that I get angry about can be a little bit less than important–or at least, relevant to my own life. One such subject is the eponymous title for this entry.

There is an article in today’s Cleveland Plain Dealer by Jeremy Gerard (actually of the Bloomberg News) who writes of the “Phony Tony voting” that occurs and that, “Many of the Tony Awards announced…will be given out in flagrant violation of Tony rules.”

So, what are these rules? We’ll pretty simple: a Tony voter is obligated to “see each of the 36 shows that opened this season.” And even if this goal is not achieved, the voters need to see all of the shows in a category if they intend to vote in that category. Seems pretty straightforward to me, how about you? Now, I’m not naive about the time requirement involved here. There is one. Especially if you have a lot going on in your life: and really, who doesn’t? For my blog and a related site I’ve been trying to get off the ground ( that is my goal: to see all the productions in Cleveland–which I’ve found to be a heavy task indeed. BUT, I would never stoop to blogging or reviewing a play I didn’t see–let alone vote on one.

It seems to me that if you’re given the privilege of voting (as voting for the Tony should be) you should meet the obligations outlined and that’s just the way it goes. Of course the reality is that most voters don’t even bother to see the shows they vote against. So, going back to my opening, is it FAIR to vote for a show when you haven’t bothered to see the others in the category? Or worse, and likely the case, is it FAIR to vote for a show you didn’t even see? It certainly calls into question motivations.

So what the hell? I mean, you just go and vote however you want for whomever you want with no regard for being informed? What is this, national politics? For Christ’s sake, at least Art could try to hold up a light in the wilderness regarding these matters. And who the hell is responsible for this process anyhow?? We’ll, let’s see.

Charlotte St. Martin (great name), “executive director of the Broadway League” (no relation to the infamous Redheaded League for you Sherlock Holmes fans) “the trade organization that co-produces the awards, did not return calls over two days of inquiries.”

That’s always a good sign. You are assured that everything is on the up-and-up when the ‘executive director’ doesn’t return calls. I love that one, by the way, it is such a great scheme to avoid a public display of your incompetence. After all, you’re not on the record one way or the other, so your incompetence is left solely to speculation. I, of course, choose to look at the very worst possible scenario–and with a name like Charlotte St. Martin I can’t be too far off in my judgment.

So who else? Come on, who else is supposed to be controlling this mess? Oh, how about the Tony Awards themselves? Well, glad you asked:

“Andy Snyder,” spokesman for the Tonys “said in an e-mail that verifying the votes isn’t the responsibility of Tony Award Productions.”

After all, why should it be? They’re only responsible for…the Tony Awards…?

Here is where the heat level in my neck and face begins to cause flushing. After all, isn’t it the responsibility…the RESPONSIBILITY of the organizations involved in something to make sure that it is fair, accurate, and NOT FRAUDULENT…after all defrauding the public is a crime, isn’t it? But, here is where that little voice inside my head starts asking questions like: in the grand scheme of life, how important a thing is this, really? How much power over your paranoia do you want to grant a Charlotte St. Martin or an Andy Snyder? Or the irresponsible majority of Tony Award voters who base their vote on the hear-say at the bar where they sidle up every night? Their opinions formed by others, or worse: precritical bias, racism, sexism, sexual preference, star-bias, or any host of other factors that have absolutely nothing to do with the play, the performance, or anything RELEVANT to a show.

As much as I hate to agree with Andy Snyder (because I do believe the Tony Awards Productions should have some responsibility for ensuring non-fraudulent activities if its going to grant an award and make people’s careers and spread manure on national television), I do agree that the responsibility for fulfilling the commitments outlined (and NOT LYING or engaging in FRAUD) lies (pun intended) with the Tony voters. If these people cannot fulfill the simple obligations outlined for their participation in the voting, they should be stripped of their rights in the first place (and this does fall to the Tony Awards Productions and the saintly figure from the League). And according to Gerard, “Ensuring an honest vote wouldn’t be difficult to do. The press agents keep tabs on all the members of the press who show up.”

So the bottom line? As Gerard writes:

“more than a third of the Tony voters don’t actually bother to see the shows in contention for Broadway’s signature prize.” Which reduces the whole value of the award to that of a “popularity contest.”

Keep that in mind when you watch the awards tonight (if you bother) and certainly if you intend to make anything of the outcome later on down the road.

A Reniassance without Writers

June 7th, 2010 No comments

The Allen Theatre renaissance that has been discussed in Tony Brown’s article on Sunday in the Plain Dealer is indeed excellent news.  There is absolutely no doubt about how powerful is the combination of the Cleveland Play House and Cleveland State University, as well as Playhouse Square and a host of investors.  With the existing theater spaces as well as the participation of Case Western Reserve’s MFA acting program the stage is set, literally, for a formidable arrangement of spaces, players, actors, directors, technicians.  What else could there be?  What possibly could be missing from the theatrical feast?  Oh, yeah, playwrights.

Link to Photo by Lisa Dejong

Allen Theatre Ceiling, Photo by Lisa Dejong

I really do feel impassioned about the opportunity that is opening up in Cleveland and the true and powerful force this represents for Northeast Ohio and the performing arts generally.  Coupled with the wonderful boon that the Cuyahoga Arts and Culture grants have been to this region (especially in a time of dwindling corporate and foundation donors), there is no doubt that performing arts represents a form of economic engine that can drive the revitalization of our communities—and God knows that stretch of Euclid Avenue really, really needs something.  For the truth of the economic cornucopia that performing arts offers neighborhoods, we need look no further than the Gordon Square Arts district and all the work that James Levin and Raymond Bobgan and of Cleveland Public Theatre and Near West Theatre and a host of others.  As I noted in my article on Theater Impact nearly a year ago, and as was mentioned in a Plain Dealer article by Steven Litt in 2007 (Energizing Detroit-Shoreway; Theater renovations, new building at the heart of neighborhood revitalization. June 24), theater has a definite economic impact on a region and especially on a neighborhood.  A fact discussed in various NEA reports as well (American Participation in Theater, AMS Planning and Research Corporation, Research Division Report #35, National Endowment for the Arts, Santa Ana, Calif. : Seven Locks Press, 1996).  The Gordon Square Arts District is poised to raise $30 million dollars itself for the renovation and reconstruction of the theater district on the Detroit Shoreway, and this $30 million dollar investment in the downtown theater district will turn Cleveland in to a powerhouse of theater with a true potential to rival Chicago as Brown notes about the Loop theater district there.

And I am pleased that what Tony Brown wrote about nearly two years ago, with regard to this possible merger and renovation, is coming true, as will some of what I wrote about then in another article.

What I continue to be sorely, sorely disappointed in is the lack of interest in playwrights or writers in general in this process.  I have learned over the years that you don’t wait for someone to ask you to come to a meeting or party or group—that you need to get off your ass and insert yourself into the mix and into the dialog and I guess, as much as anything, I’m asking aloud who should be inserting themselves into the conversation on behalf of writers?  Cleveland State University is a member of the Northeast Ohio Masters of Fine Arts (NEOMFA) program—a consortium of 4 schools: Akron, YSU, CSU, and Kent.  The CSU campus is the home site of the MFA playwrights unit.  This unit has turned out some fine writers already, including Michael Sepesy, a fine writer who has performed his work in the New York Fringe Festival and had many positive reviews of his work at CPT.  Michael Oatman, another fine, dynamic, and outrageous writer who’s work was recently featured in the New York Times, who is now a playwright in residence at the University of Nebraska, and who co-authored Warpaint which was a finalist for the John Cauble Short Play award and was produced at the National Kennedy Center American Theatre Festival in April, 2009 in Washington, DC.  Additionally, I’ll blow my own horn briefly as having authored a play that received Best Original Script by a Local Playwright, 2008, Rave and Pan.  There are others, including Michael Parsons who runs Theatre Daedalus in Columbus, OH, along with another talented writer in Jaclyn Villano. And, unfortunately, the dark side—with other fine writers like Peter Roth and Katie Buckels leaving Cleveland to find more receptive environments, such as Carnegie Mellon and Pace University respectively.

It is just unbelievable that MFA playwrights are not being mixed into the fold along side MFA actors and new theatrical spaces—and all of this brought together in a formidable tempest of creative production.  Why is Cleveland always waiting for winners and not reaching out and grabbing hold of its own fucking piece of the fated future and forging it into a dynasty—why must we look to Chicago for a Steppenwolf and a Mamet or Gilman, etc., who seems to look sideways at New York for something else? Well, I take that back, we can learn from Chicago: learn how to generate a strong theater environment for all theater artists, so that new work emerges from new playwrights using a system of powerful theater companies.

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