Reinstate the Sound Design Tony Awards
Official statement from the Association of Sound Designers, London, June 17th, 2014
We were disappointed to hear of the decision by the Tony Awards Administration Committee to remove the categories of Best Sound Design of a Play and Best Sound Design of a Musical from their roster last week.
In 2008, Howard Sherman spoke on behalf of the American Theatre Wing and Broadway League to introduce the inclusion of these new categories, saying, "We want to reflect an evolution of the understanding of the sound designer's role, both among artists and in the community at large. This is not an award for placing a microphone somewhere. It's about the creation of an aural environment that impacts our relationship to a production, just like any other design."
Sound design has evolved further since 2008 and now is an integral, if not utterly essential, part of every show playing on Broadway. To absent sound designers and their work from the awards is a failure to respect the contribution that sound designers make as core members of a show's creative team and the artistry that they bring to a show. The suggestion that ''[a] special Tony may be bestowed in the future when a production has extraordinary sound design'' – provides little consolation. Marginalizing sound design is a profoundly retrograde step.
It has been reported that one of the reasons for removing the awards was that "many Tony voters do not know what Sound Design is, or how to assess it" (New York Times, June 12). Tony voters are primarily made up of a wide range of theatre professionals, some directly involved in the creation of shows and some not. We would suggest that the panel does not need any more specialist skills to assess sound design than they do the other design categories. We would encourage the panel to seek guidance in assessing sound design from any number of professionals within our industry rather than exclude a large and integral section of the industry’s creative workforce from a well respected and prestigious event.
We strongly encourage the Tony Awards Administration Committee to reconsider their decision.
For the full release, please click here.
The Association of Sound Designers (ASD) was set up in 2011 to represent and support sound designers and those working in the UK theatre sound industry, many of whom also work on Broadway.
Quotes From Previous Tony Sound Design Winners And Nominees
Christopher Shutt, Tony Winner 2012, War Horse
"We've worked hard in our industry over recent years … we've raised audience expectations and have made ourselves indispensable to contemporary theatre-makers all over the world so I'm saddened to hear that many voters don't even feel qualified to pass an opinion on our work. I agree with Brian Ronan that, at times, we are at our best when we are invisible, so the layman will often have trouble identifying good practice from bad. But it's up to the Committee to have representatives from all of the theatre-making disciplines to help guide people's choices and to point out the best examples - not to remove one discipline entirely. To deny us that opportunity is to misrepresent the theatre-going experience for audiences, which would be so much less rich without us."
Mic Pool, Tony Winner 2008, The 39 Steps
"I was very honored to be the first ever recipient of the Tony award for sound design in the 2008 awards. The decision of the Tony Awards Administration Committee to retire the awards has shocked and saddened me.
Sound design has been a core part of the collaborative process of theatre production, working with directors, writers, and actors to create inspiring and truthful work to delight, shock, educate, and entertain audiences for many, many years. It took a long time for the more conservative senior figures, both in London's West End and on Broadway, to acknowledge this through the inclusion of sound design awards in the Olivier's in 2004 and four years later at the 2008 Tony's.
In the seven years the sound Tony's have been awarded, fifty six productions have been nominated which, as a body of work, serve as shining examples of the best sound design practice on the Broadway stage. These sound designs demonstrate a broad range of approaches and techniques in the way they have been imagined and executed. It is utterly incomprehensible to me that the administration committee and the Tony nominators and voters in general, in considering all these nominated designs, have not been able to develop the critical listening skills and appreciation of the art of the sound designer to enable them to value this work equally with the contributions of other designers and members of creative teams.
The important thing is that the exemplary standards and dedication of those that practice this design discipline are recognised. The nominees stand as representatives of the profession in general, to receive the acknowledgement of the industry on behalf of all those working at this level and for the next generation who aspire to. Of course, it is difficult for anyone to make a rational decision as to which design should ultimately be declared a winner, but this is really the same for all the categories, and the absurd comparisons that have to be made between actors, writers, directors, and designers in vastly different projects and circumstances are all part of the froth and excitement of awards ceremonies in general.
What will not change despite the awards being retired is any fundamental shift in the importance of sound design in the creation of the next seasons on Broadway and in London's West End, and the thousands of other productions which will be created around the world. Sound designers will still be integral and essential in realizing the vision of writers and directors and enabling the highest standards of presentation of their work and the work of the performers. They will take ideas which only exist in their imaginations, and through their art transform them into sonic realities that can be shared with an audience.
I would hope that there were considerably less than the twenty four members of the committee in favour of this decision, I recognize many of the names of the members, and would be very surprised if this represented the views of anything more than a slim majority."
Gareth Owen, Tony nominee 2012, End of the Rainbow, and 2010, A Little Night Music
"There is much discussion out in the States suggesting that sound design is a purely technical vocation - that a sound designer is a facilitator to the other creatives rather than an artistic force in their own right. While I would agree that sound design is a hugely technical discipline, I would argue that to suggest it lacks art form is akin to implying that actors merely read the script or that dancers simply reproduce the steps. The same passion, talent, and imagination that goes into playing Hamlet or performing Swan Lake also goes into sound design - if the Tony Awards Administration Committee fails to understand this then it is simply our duty to educate them."