And Tony taketh away.
The 2007-2008 season seemed to be a victory for theatre designers everywhere, when the American Theatre Wing (ATW) added two Tony Awards for sound design (for a musical and play). In an announcement yesterday, however, that same body eliminated those very categories.
Yesterday's official press release states, "The Tony Award Administration Committee has determined that Best Sound Design of a Play and Best Sound Design of a Musical Categories will be eliminated from the established list of competitive categories, beginning with the 2014-2015 season. The Tony Administration Committee may bestow a Special Tony Award to a production when it determines that extraordinary sound design has been achieved."
Representatives for the Tony Award Administration Committee declined further comment.
Veteran sound designer Abe Jacob comments, "My feelings are that this is an affront to all theater designers not just sound and an real error on the part of the Administration Committee."
Sound designer Nevin Steinberg, who was nominated last year for Best Sound Design of a Musical for Rodgers + Hammerstein's Cinderella, says, "It is, of course, disappointing and also mystifying news. I am anxious to hear why my friends and colleagues on the Tony Administration Committee felt that this was the right direction to move with the awards."
Projection designer Zachary Borovay, who has been a strong proponent of adding a category for his particular discipline, notes, "The shaping and sculpting of sound has become an integral part of every Broadway production. A sound designer's job is far more than just sound reinforcement. It made perfect sense to recognize their work in such a way.
"The news that the committee decided to eliminate the sound design categories came as a complete surprise to most of us in the industry," continues Borovay. "And at a time where many other theatrical awards, including those which already recognized sound designers, actually expanded to recognize the contributions of projection designers, it certainly doesn’t bode well for those of us whose contributions have yet to be recognized."
Composer and sound designer John Gromada, also nominated last year for Best Sound Design of a Play for his work on The Trip to Bountiful, has started an online petition to reinstate the Tony Award categories for sound design that gained more than 7,000 signatures in the first 24 hours since the announcement. The petition states, "Sound design is a theatrical design art that is a critical part of the collaborative art of theatre. The American Theatre Wing should continue to honor excellence in sound design as it does for scenery, costume and lighting design, and as it has done since 2008. Sound designers are an important part of the theatrical community whose vital contributions cannot be ignored or dismissed. Reverse this decision now!"
Reactions on social media sites were swift and strong, with many opponents of the decision by the Tony Awards Administration Committee posting directly on the Tony Awards' Facebook page. Live Design contributor Shannon Slaton wrote, "I have been a Broadway sound mixer for the past fourteen years. I was so happy the day the Tonys established an award for sound design. I love the Tony Awards, and I love this wonderful industry, but I am deeply saddened by this decision. I hope you reverse this decision."
Director Gregg Brevoort added to the Tony Facebook page, "As a professional director, I find it appalling that the Tony committee has decided to drop sound design from award consideration beginning next year. Sound design is an integral part of the collaborative and creative process. To drop them from consideration is not only an insult to the artistry and technical expertise of sound designers, but is an affront to their collaborators. The Tony committee and the ATW has done a tremendous disservice to the entire theatre community, including its audiences. Please reconsider your egregious decision."
United States Institute for Theatre Technology (USITT) issued a release today, in which USITT executive director David Grindle states, “This decision tells me, and frankly our entire industry, that they have no respect for an art form that has become a truly essential and amazing contributor to Broadway shows.”
Grindle also sent a letter to ATW executive director Heather Hitchens, urging her to reconsider this matter and saying, "The news that the American Theatre Wing has decided to discontinue recognizing sound design with a Tony Award is incredibly disturbing. To do so without explanation, saying only that a special award may be given 'when it determines that extraordinary sound design has been achieved,' implies that all previous winners have been unworthy."
United Scenic Artists' Cecilia A. Friederichs spoke exclusively to Live Design's Ellen Lampert-Gréaux today, saying, "USA 829 is very upset by this and feels that it is extremely regrettable that the Tonys have made this decision. The Union is supporting and promoting the grassroots protest effort. All of the other major theatre awards, such as the Oliviers in London, honor sound design, and did so prior to 2007 when the decision was made to add a sound design award to the Tonys. I sit on the Tony Administration Committee but was not at the meeting where the decision was taken to eliminate the award. It was not an agenda item announced in advance. There is a rules sub-committee that examines the rules and makes recommendations to the committee-at-large."
"The designers are shocked by the decision and feel disrespected by the Tonys," continues Friederichs. "I am proud of our members for taking collective action and hope the fact that the protest petition has garnered 10,000 (and climbing) signatures of designers, directors, stage managers, actors, and others in 24 hours will be strong enough to make the Tonys reconsider."
Stay tuned for additional coverage.