Brian Ronan 2014 Tony Award for Best Sound Design Theo Wargo, Getty Image
Brian Ronan accepts 2014 Tony Award for Best Sound Design of a Musical for Beautiful: The Carole King Musical.

The Tonys Bring Back Sound Design Honors

The Tony Awards will reinstate the Best Sound Design of a Play and Best Sound Design of a Musical categories in the 2017-2018 season.

A resounding cheer was heard all the way down Broadway today when the Tony Awards announced it would be reinstating the Best Sound Design of a Play and Best Sound Design of a Musical categories, starting in the 2017-2018 season.

The two categories were eliminated back in 2014, and although no official explanation was given then, award committee members told The New York Times that that the decision was driven by both voter challenges in understanding and evaluating sound design and the perception by some committee members that sound design is more of a technical craft than an art form.

At that time, the organizations that oversee The Tonys were considering honoring sound design on a special-merit basis: “It was determined that sound design would be more appropriately considered as a special award when there was an extraordinary achievement rather than continuing to have a separate category,” Charlotte St. Martin, the executive director of the Broadway League, and Heather Hitchens, the executive director of the American Theater Wing told The Times.

The Broadway sound community mobilized to voice concerns against the committee’s decision: Veteran Broadway sound designer John Gromada, who had lobbied for the awards to be created in the first place, founded an online petition to reinstate the awards; that petition ultimately garnered more than 32,000 signatures.

In the ensuing years, the awards committee conducted an in-depth review of all of its 24 competitive categories, with the input of industry professionals, including sound designers. Starting next season, the Best Sound Design of a Musical and Best Sound Design of a Play award categories will be reinstated, with a new voting process: Winners in these categories will be determined by a qualified subset of voters, based on professional affiliation. (The category of Best Orchestrations will also follow this new process.)

“We are very gratified by this outcome,” said Nevin Steinberg of the United Scenic Artists, Local USA 829, a labor union and professional association of more than 4,300 designers, artists and craftspeople. “Happily, the appeals and activism of our members, of the professional theater community in New York and around the country, and the thoughtful arguments for reconsideration by some of the most prominent individuals and organizations across show business made an impact. Sound designers on Broadway will once again be recognized for the integral and creative work that their colleagues and audiences expect.”

The 71st Annual Tony Awards, hosted by Kevin Spacey, will broadcast live from Radio City Music Hall on CBS on June 11, 2017.

Sarah Jones is a writer, editor, and content producer with more than 20 years' experience in pro audio, including as editor-in-chief of three leading audio magazines: Mix, EQ, and Electronic Musician. She is a lifelong musician and committed to arts advocacy and learning, including acting as education chair of the San Francisco chapter of the Recording Academy, where she helps develop event programming that cultivates the careers of Bay Area music makers.

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