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.
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This week's question comes from Mark Kari of Toronto, Canada.
Question: When shows are performed on the Tony Awards broadcast, do they bring their own sets/props/lighting or do they have an extra set of sets/props/lighting created just for the show? Answer: Several readers have asked this question in various forms, so let's settle the question: No, sets are not brought from the Broadway theatres to Radio City Music Hall to be used for the songs on the Tony Awards. "It's physically not practical," says Glenn Weiss, the director-producer of the Tonys.
Weiss does say, however, that "all the shows will have a scenic representation of their own set." Typically, a show will build another set specifically for the Tonys — anything from a replica of the actual set to a bare bones version.
That may be costly, but here's why it's impractical to use the original set: Many of the shows have a Sunday matinee the same day as the awards. So dragging all the sets to Radio City in the late afternoon before the Tonys, loading them in, getting them assembled, finding a place for them on the stage — all in a few hours — would require a miracle.
Plus, there are rehearsals with the sets (but without costumes) on the Thursday and Friday before the Tonys, and a dress rehearsal (with costumes) Sunday morning. And the sets could never be transported back and forth for all those rehearsals, unless you simply canceled all those Broadway shows for the week.
Don't worry, those extra sets don't always go to waste. Weiss says that some are dismantled, but others are stored after the Tonys and then later used for the show's touring production.
One fact to note: The Radio City stage is about 100 feet wide — much wider than a Broadway stage. "You can get lost on the stage at Radio City, it's just so huge," Weiss says. So Weiss' team builds a false proscenium that's a more appropriate 44-feet wide. As a result, Weiss says, "The scale is correct, so the number looks like it looks in their own theatre." The 44-foot scale also allows for an appropriately sized set that can later be used in touring productions if need be.
As for the other technical elements, the actual props can sometimes be transported from the Broadway theatre to be used during the awards. The Tonys has its own lighting designer, who works in consultation with the lighting designers for the shows.
The actors use their actual costumes. Sunday morning, all the performers report to their own theatre to get into costume, and then are bused over to Radio City for the dress rehearsal. Then they go back to their theatre for the Sunday matinee, and then the busing process is repeated for the actual awards. If you're one of these performers who's also nominated for an award, you can have a place to change backstage so that you're not in your costume when you go up to receive your statue.
For actors, that Sunday is quite insane, especially if you're someone like, say, Idina Menzel, the year she won a Tony for Wicked. She was her Elphaba character during the dress rehearsal, then she performed in the matinee, then she walked the red carpet as herself, then she got back into Elphaba gear to sing at the awards, then she changed back into her own clothes to receive her award — all the while having to put on and take off a entire face full of green make-up. "She was moving every moment of the day," Weiss says. "It's a true testament to the whole logistical situation that we have going on backstage."