ASK PLAYBILL.COM: Those Tony Quirks

Ask Playbill.com   ASK PLAYBILL.COM: Those Tony Quirks
 
A look at various elements of the Tony Awards, the Broadway theatre's highest honor.
Executive director of the American Theatre Wing, Howard Sherman
Executive director of the American Theatre Wing, Howard Sherman Photo by Aubrey Reuben

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Ask Playbill.com is a weekly Playbill.com column that answers questions about theatre, generated by readers and Playbill.com staff, every Thursday. To ask a question, email AskPlaybill@Playbill.com. Please specify how you would like your name displayed and please include the city in which you live.

The first question is from KC Holt of Newton, IA. The other questions are from the Playbill.com staff.

To answer these questions, Playbill.com spoke with Howard Sherman, executive director of the American Theatre Wing, which helps administer the Tony Awards.

Question: Has there ever been a Tony given for make-up/hair design? If not, why, and why isn't there one now? There have been plenty of worthy shows over the years, from The Phantom of the Opera to Beauty and the Beast to Wicked. Answer: There does not appear to have ever been a Tony for make-up or hair design. Regarding the possibility of giving such an award in the future, Sherman says, "At this point the feeling is that the appearance of the actors is dealt with by the costume designer, and that make-up and hair are all elements working with the costume designer. Those elements are seen as part of the costume design category." Have there been discussions to change that? "There are discussions about a lot of categories and elements as there's been more specialization. Certainly there are many constituencies that seek recognition. It is a slow process of consideration and also a desire not to have an endless roster of awards." Sherman notes that in 2003, the wig and hair designer Paul Huntley received a Tony Honor, which is given to individuals or organizations that are not eligible for regular Tony Awards.

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Question: Have you considered creating a Tony for sound design?

Answer: "That is in active consideration at this time."

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Question: Why in 2005 did the Tonys decide to split each of the three design categories (sets, lights, costumes) into two separate categories: one for plays, another for musicals?

Answer: "There was a consideration as to whether the designs for plays were being disadvantaged by the scale of what could be done in musicals, and that invariably the requirements of musicals and the budgets of musicals were more elaborate than might be seen for a play, but that there should be the opportunity for the work done on plays to be considered on its own with work of comparable scale."

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Question: How are the Tony Honors decided, and why in 2003 did the Tonys decide to start awarding them in the fall, instead of giving them out during the main Tony Awards ceremony in the spring?

Answer: "The Tony Honors began back in 1990 but were not fully defined as to what they were for. A few years ago, clarity was brought to the process to say that the Tony Honors were specifically to recognize individuals and organizations who are involved in theatre but do not have the opportunity to be recognized under the existing Tony categories."

Tony Honors tend to be given for a body of work over the individual or organization's lifetime. Last year, the Tony Honors recipients included Samuel "Biff" Liff, a William Morris agent; Ellen Stewart, the founder of the Off-Off Broadway company La Mama; the BMI Lehman Engel Musical Theatre Workshop, a training ground for songwriters; and Forbidden Broadway and its creator Gerard Alessandrini. Tony Honors can, however, be given for a specific season: in 2003 a Tony Honor went to the principal ensemble of La Bohème.

The Tony Honors are different from the Lifetime Achievement Tony Award, which, unlike a Tony Honor, is given to an individual who has been eligible for Tonys, and may have received many of them in the past. Both prizes are different from the Special Tony Awards, which, Sherman says, may "be about work specifically within a season, or over a lifetime, because they are by their very nature undefined." Last year Sarah Jones received a Special Tony for her solo play Bridge & Tunnel.

Sherman adds, "The decision to shift the Tony Honors from spring to the fall was to allow us to create an event to create more attention for recipients of Tony Honors…Many of the individuals or organizations [who receive Tony honors] are extremely worthy, extremely committed people with long-term interest in theatre, but the night of the Tonys the focus is on the winners, and we wanted the honorees to be seen in their own light."

In 2003, Paul Huntley was given the Tony Honors for his career in wig and hair design.
In 2003, Paul Huntley was given the Tony Honors for his career in wig and hair design. Photo by Aubrey Reuben
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