Practically everyone was guided, inspired, pushed or applauded at some point by a great teacher.
That little smile and nod. That "You can do it." That moment when you were pulled out of a line of kids and told, "You've got something special."
Thanks to an alliance of the Tony Awards and Carnegie Mellon University, the nationwide theatre community now has a chance to return the compliment. The first of what is intended as an annual "Excellence in Theatre Education Award" will be given during the June 7 Tony Awards ceremony for the special recognition of outstanding theatre teachers. Not just educators whose students go on to be nominated for — or win — Tony Awards, but all teachers who bring the arts into the classroom. This is the Tonys' contribution to an ongoing national dialogue about the importance of arts education. It's also the first award given by the Tonys that was thrown open to the theatregoing public for nominations.
Make sure to follow us on social media for all of our awards season coverage. The 2015 Tony Awards — hosted by Kristin Chenoweth and Alan Cumming — will be broadcast on Sunday, June 7, 2015 (8-11 PM ET/PT time delay) on CBS, live from Radio City Music Hall in NYC. For information, photos, videos, and more, go to TonyAwards.com. For the first three months of this year, hundreds of stage folk everywhere — from students and school administrators, to friends, neighbors and family — sent essays to TonyAwards.com describing a theatre educator currently working with students in kindergarten through grade 12, who has made a "monumental impact" on the lives and careers of their students.
"Tony Award winners have thanked their teachers during acceptance speeches," said Charlotte St. Martin, executive director of The Broadway League. "Starting this year, we're putting educators and their essential roles at center stage."
Dan J. Martin, Dean of the College of Fine Arts at CMU, said, "Carnegie Mellon University has produced more than 30 Tony Award winners and hundreds of nominees. It was a natural fit for us to partner with the Tony Awards to celebrate educators who are making a difference in the lives of the next generation of talent."
"This new award underscores our longstanding commitment to theatre education," said Heather Hitchens, president of the American Theatre Wing. "Theatre education isn't just training for work on the stage. The skills and knowledge students gather from theatre can be used in all phases of life and in many different careers. It opens their minds to whole new worlds."
Submissions have been judged by an esteemed panel assembled by the American Theatre Wing and the Broadway League: Peter Cooke, head of Carnegie Mellon's School of Drama; Sue Frost, founding member of Junkyard Dog Productions and current Executive Committee member of The Broadway League; Nina Lannan, founder of Bespoke Theatricals and former chair of The Broadway League; Judith Light, Tony Award-winning actress and Carnegie Mellon alumna; Lawrence Otis Graham, New York Times best-selling author and American Theatre Wing Trustee; Thomas Schumacher, producer and president of Disney Theatrical Group, American Theatre Wing Advisory Committee member and The Broadway League Executive Committee member. The deadline for submissions was March 31. The winner of the award was chosen by this panel in May and will be announced at tonight's Tony ceremony. In addition, a financial contribution will be made to the school where the winner works.
"The Excellence in Theatre Education Award has been tremendously successful in its first year," said CMU's Martin. "It's our hope that this program continues to grow and shine the spotlight on the value of theatre and arts education."
Robert Viagas is founding managing editor of Playbill.com and author or editor of 20 books on theatre.