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Should The Creative Arts Tony Awards For Design Be Televised?

Tony Awards
By Katya Murphy

Say what you want about the content or commercial origin of the 2018 Tony Awards and its nominees (and I’m sure you have a lot to say!) but the technical and design prowess on display this year has delivered on excitement and innovation. Take a look at the over-the-top in the best way exuberant display of design imagination that is Spongebob Squarepants and the subtle, deliberate, and powerful world building in The Band’s Visit – and you can appreciate the awesome impact that designers make on Broadway.

And yet, those of us watching along at home saw almost none of the acceptance speeches by the folks offstage, as awards for design went scrolling along post-commercial break. It raises the question in my own mind as well as many discussion forums on the internet, should the telecast of the Tony Awards include the Creative Arts awards for design and technical achievement? Let’s look at the some of the arguments for and against extending the telecast.

Yes! Put it all on TV!

The actors deserve every bit of recognition they get at the Tony’s but the magic of Broadway is as much about design as it is about performance. In not granting designers the same visible recognition at the awards, they are being left out of the story of their own success. Young designers and technicians also get excited about the Tony Awards, let’s give them something to look at and look up to that they can actually see live!

Audiences suffer too as they are denied a chance to learn about the people behind designs and are also denied the opportunity to dive deeper into the process of creating the shows they love.

To a layperson, theatrical design could be the craft beer of Broadway. Something you can be excitedly in the know about without exerting too much effort, but information about design and designers isn’t easy to find for those who aren’t in the know, and doubly so when the biggest accessible event of  the year shares the design awards only with the insiders in the room.

The Academy Awards ceremony that is televised each year includes the presentation and acceptance speeches for Costume Design, Makeup & Hairstyling, Original Score, Original Song, Production Design, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing. Each award is also presented by a celebrity influencer and an argument could be made that the Academy Award viewer may be more excited about the presenter than the award winner or their speech, but the award is still televised.  The official tally from Nielsen shows that ABC’s telecast of the 90th Academy Awards averaged just 26.5 million television viewers, a decline of 20% over last year’s show and the ceremony’s worst viewership ever.

CBS’s Sunday telecast of the 72nd annual Tony Awards scored an audience of 6.3 million viewers, a 4.5% rise over last year, according to Nielsen data. The audience figure is a slight rebound from the 2017 ceremony, which was watched by 6.05 million viewers and in 2016, when the wildly popular musical “Hamilton” swept the awards, the program scored 8.7 million viewers.

While the Tony Awards viewership is dramatically lower than the Oscars, there is still a strong stand to be made for televising the Creative Arts Tony Awards presentations and speeches.

No! Don’t put it all on TV, it’s more complicated than that!

While the Tony Awards no doubt exist to honor the people that make Broadway shows possible, is the point of the Tony’s telecast the same? The awards ceremony is trying to create entertaining television that helps keep people excited about theatre and should be understood as such.

In truth, the televised Tony’s exist in large part to stir up excitement from the casual theatre-going public and to encourage ticket sales, otherwise they wouldn’t be on prime time nationwide TV!

Those excited consumers keep the Broadway industry alive and it makes sense to tailor the broadcast to showcase the elements that are easily recreated in a new space. Plus, the broadcast is already long and including all the awards in it would make it super long, possibly alienating viewers.

It may make perfect sense to honor designers more substantially, and while we’re at it, what about projection designers, special effects designers, stage management, technicians and programmers? But the Tony’s might not be the best way to do that – maybe what is necessary is another format entirely, but that’s a topic for another day…

What do you think?

Regardless of your opinion, be sure to check out the acceptance speeches below from the 2018 Creative Arts Tony Awards recipients.

BEST SCENIC DESIGN OF A PLAY

Christine Jones, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Parts One and Two

BEST SCENIC DESIGN OF A MUSICAL

David Zinn for SpongeBob SquarePants: The Musical

BEST COSTUME DESIGN OF A PLAY

Katrina Lindsay for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Parts One and Two

BEST COSTUME DESIGN OF A MUSICAL

Catherine Zuber for My Fair Lady

BEST SOUND DESIGN OF A PLAY

Gareth Fry, for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Parts One and Two

BEST SOUND DESIGN OF A MUSICAL

Kai Harada for The Band’s Visit

BEST LIGHTING DESIGN OF A PLAY

Neil Austin for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Parts One and Two

BEST LIGHTING DESIGN OF A MUSICAL

Tyler Micoleau for The Band’s Visit

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE (MUSIC AND/OR LYRICS) WRITTEN FOR THE THEATRE

David Yazbek for Music & Lyrics of The Band’s Visit

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