With all the uncertainty around Broadway at the moment, one thing is for sure: this year’s Tony Awards will be different than any other. The 2021 event comes just as Broadway began recovering from the extended, unprecedented shutdown needed for the COVID-19 epidemic, incorporating new safety protocols into Midtown theaters and keeping a watchful eye on diversity and groundbreaking infections. Held at Broadway’s Winter Garden Theater instead of the usual Radio City Music Hall, the Sept. 2 show will be split into two parts, the first half being held as a splash showcase for Paramount Plus and the second half as a splashy showcase for Broadway’s overall return, a network spotlight found on CBS.
But when you talk to this year’s Tony nominees, you’ll see that everyone from award-circuit veterans to first-timers have acknowledged that the upcoming event is more important than the vaccine and streaming platform. As Broadway’s first prize in terms of racial justice accounted for by the uprising in 2020 shows, tennis will be seen as evidence of a commitment to purpose and an ideology that the industry has been claiming to embezzle over the past few months. . This year’s event will not just announce the return of Broadway; It will reveal how it has changed.
“I’ve always felt that unfortunately the Tony Awards could be a reflection of a community that has moved so far away from the national discourse,” said Katori Hall, the newly elected Pulitzer Prize winner (“The Hot Wing King”) currently nominated for his song “Tina”. Books for this. “I think it’s going to be a good challenge for the Tony Awards, to see if they can make a statement about how important theater is to our world. We need to support and rally around this moment to show why theater is an art form. ”
Several nominees have acknowledged that a complete transformation of tennis, and the industry it represents, will not happen overnight. “The frustrating aspect is that so much can change with organizations, no matter how much people’s current perceptions change,” said Jeremy and Harris.
Harris has instead focused on the satisfaction that will come from the feeling of long delayed closure. “A lot of artists think they’ve been living in an ellipse for the last 20 months,” he says. “What I feel is that there is no feeling of excitement or hope or even anxiety for September 26th. The only relief I feel is that I will be able to see the community of my colleagues again, and the excitement that it may finally be time and space that we have celebrated all the labor together.
“To me, the Tony Awards represent a sense of continuity more than anything,” Blair Underwood added, for the lead actor award for his performance in “A Soldiers Play.” “I think we’re all feeling somewhat normal and looking at how things were, hopefully moving forward with an improved feeling of enlightenment.”
“Tony is really a part of a cycle that has broken down,” said Tilly Pelman, producer of “Tina,” nominated for 12 awards. “They are a symbol of our survival. I think it will be catharsis for all of us. ”
In addition to the expectation of a call after a long separation, many nominees are interested that people from the house will be absent.
“I’m glad to see the work start again, but there are some shows that I couldn’t,” said Tom Kit, the composer nominated for the orchestration of “Jagged Little Pill” (one of the show’s 15 names). “My heart is with all those artists.”
Meanwhile, for visitors outside the Winter Garden auditorium, tennis will serve as the first off-the-shelf commercial for an industry that is still in a shaky state.
“It’s more important for Broadway to be commercial this year than ever before,” said Aaron Tevit, whose music nominee for “Moulin Rouge.”
But hitting the right tone would be a subtle balance. “Of course it’s a great honor to be nominated, but it seems like it’s the wrong time to think that the award is above all, and above all, when life and death were at the forefront,” said Fileda Lloyd.
Then, the event should be more than just an award, and keep an eye on how the industry has changed and its further development plans.
“If the last 1 month has taught us one thing, we just can’t go back like before,” said Diane Pallas, the nominee for director of “Jagged Little Pill.” “It’s much bigger than theater, but if theater is part of the world, we’ve got to model it inside our industry. Now that we’re reopening, it’s time to take action, and Tony is part of it.”
Sonia Taiyeh, the choreographer nominated for her “Moulin Rouge”, will hopefully highlight the healing potential of Tony Theater. “Art brings together a lot of people who would never have lived in the same house otherwise, and it brings together so nicely forced discussions that allow the evolution of thought,” he says. “Tony can be a heartwarming reminder to the world how important this is.”
Many nominees focus on inclusion in new ways. “For me, I’m looking at tennis through a new lens of access and privilege and responsibility,” said Lauren Patten, nominated for the featured actress in “Jagged Little Pill.” “If you are privileged enough to be in that place, how can you attend to that responsibility? Even after this time of not being able to be with anyone, it is more important than ever for everyone to have access to this art form.”
Anthony Veneziel, co-founder of the special Tony Award-winning hip-hop improv comedy Troop Freestyle Love Supreme, hopes the recognition of the group’s 2019 Broadway run could serve as a step towards bringing more diversity among key and audience audiences.
“Through our shows we say there are more stories, there are more perspectives that need to be focused,” he says. “Theater is really the forerunner of that idea in society, and if we can’t be the center of the voice we need to hear right now, who can?”
For Auto Blankson-Wood, nominated for his performance in “Slave Play”, it also seems important to recognize the work nominated for tennis, which was already asking questions about diversity, inclusion and equality.
“I think it’s really important to celebrate the work of changing culture on Broadway this past season,” he says. “Maybe Tony has a chance to allay a lot of the fears surrounding human change and we’ll say we’re celebrating change.”
For many nominees, Tony also represents an opportunity to declare their own values and call for things to change.
“Your biggest platform as a color artist is Tony,” said “Tiny” nominee Holly. “If you win and you have a chance to stand on that stage, what are you going to say?”
The artists speak
Clint Ramos, Scene Design for a play, “Slave Play” and Costume Design for a play, double nominated for “The Rose Tattoo”
“I think as an artist and as a color theater artist, the last year and a half has opened a chamber in our souls that I don’t think we can close again and continue working the way we used to. Tony Awards is a very institutional opportunity to reflect: How are we arbitrating excellence in our case? Who gets to do it?
“Honestly I’m scared of Tony, and I’m excited about it too. Because it’s a new frontier, and now I’m looking at it through this sense of community and how we’re defining it. The more I talk about it, the more I realize that it could actually be a touchstone moment.
“I think we can’t forget that we’re in a moment of deep, profound change and that any discomfort we feel is actually good. I know that I will face a lot of discomfort that day. I think I’ve moved in such a way that I can’t go back to not asking questions anymore. Whether we like it or not, whether we participate or not, change is going to happen. I think Tony is really a chance for us to make a decision: are we jumping on it, or are we just stagnating?
“I always say that Tony is a celebration of one of our favorite things, which is American theater. Despite everything, I declare my complete enduring love for it. Maybe that’s why I criticize it so much – because I love it.
Britain Smith, President and Founder, winner of the Broadway Advocacy Coalition, 2021 Special Tony Award:
“We all love Tony. This is our Oscar. It’s an opportunity to flex and celebrate our friends. But it’s an opportunity for viewers to see who is flexible and how they look. It’s mostly a white audience who can also go to Tony. I have never been so critical before.
“I hope these Tony Awards are a chance to look around and say: We have a lot to celebrate when we get back, but people also need to understand how scary it is to know who’s in the room. To be more aware of who we’re all in. Accused.I don’t think these tones will reflect this, but the next one should be and the one after that.
“We like our Special Tony Award very much. It’s a moment of over-conviction that our work and our voices and our methods are needed in the industry. We are honored to redesign a whole culture. That’s wild. I feel that.
“But when we are in a house with a lot of people who want to celebrate us, we have to do something where we remind people why we all came together in the first place. Don’t forget that George Floyd is dead. This is why we know you all. Don’t forget that in June 2020, you all signed this pledge.
It’s exciting to be so loud. I like to think of Broadway as something like tennis, each of the higher platforms, as a weapon of change and a tool of evolution.