Monday, March 27, 2006

Tonys Part 1: What the hell is a Special Theatrical Event?

Today alone two people asked me about the Special Theatrical Event Tony Award, so now I answer those questions and all future inquiries in this text.

The Special Theatrical Event Tony Award category is one of those Tony things that I believe has a good sentiment behind it, yet has suffered from poor execution. Before I deal with why people are wondering about it today, let me provide a little bit of background. This award was created in May of 2000 to, in theory, encompass everything from Contact (which a couple of weeks later was to win a controversial Best Musical Tony) to Dame Edna shows. It was first used in the 2000-2001 season, when Blast! was the only eligible show and the eventual winner. (The award does not necessarily need to be handed out each year and was not in 2004.) Decisions about just what is a Special Theatrical Event are left up to the Tony Administration Committee, which seems to handle all fuzzy matters. Producers may request that their show be considered a Special Theatrical Event, but it is the committee's decision.

Now on to why people are curious about it today. Both The Post and Variety have printed that Bridge & Tunnel is the only Special Theatrical Event of the season. Let me say, that decision has not been made. The Admin Committee will decide Bridge & Tunnel's eligibility during its April 20 meeting. So why are people assuming it will be Special Theatrical? Well, because the producers of the show have made it clear that they've asked for that and everyone pretty much gets what they request. The only show I can remember that requested the Special Theatrical moniker and got turned down was the Roundabout/Deaf West Big River production that featured both singing and signing.

Here is where the poor execution comes in. It is not required that producers petition the Admin Committee if they have a Special Theatrical Event, the Admin Committee can use their own discretion and just say, "Hey--this is so Special man." But earlier this season, two shows that would have seemed Special Theatrical to the common observer, were not deemed as such. Latinologues was named a play and Chita Rivera: The Dancer's Life was classified as a musical. Neither production wrote a letter to the committee requesting Special Theatrical status and neither got it. Now I realize Bridge & Tunnel is in the gray area--it could indeed be considered a Play or it could be a Special Theatrical Event--I don't personally have a preference about that. What I find troubling is that in a season where Latinologues is a "Play," Bridge & Tunnel may possibly be a Special Theatrical Event just because those producers submitted a letter. There is nothing that makes Bridge & Tunnel more legitimately qualified to be a Special Theatrical Event over Latinologues. So, if Bridge & Tunnel is indeed awarded Special Theatrical Event status (and, again, that has not happened yet), it's not really a decision based on the show, it's based on one piece of paper. (I won't even deal with the upcoming Well, which I personally believe is legitimately way more of a Special Theatrical Event than Bridge & Tunnel.) I'm fine with Bridge & Tunnel being a Special Theatrical Event and winning that category even, but I believe there must be some consistency among the rulings or at least clearer policies regarding the matter. Either get Admin members who use their own sense or make it clear that a letter to the committee is required if a show wants to be a Special Theatrical Event. If the latter happens, at least we won't have people running around confused, we'll know they skipped a required step.

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