Two theatre labor organizations, the Dramatists Guild and the Association of Theatrical Press Agents and Managers have lodged complaints about the 1997 Tony Awards, set for June 1.
The first shot across the bow was fired by Peter Stone, president of the Dramatists Guild and Tony-nominated librettist/lyricist for Broadway's Titanic. As reported in the New York Daily News, Stone got steamed because CBS chose not to air the Tony award to Book of a Musical on its 9-11 PM broadcast. Stone told columnist Michael Riedel, "I am disappointed that [the Tony administrators] have decided to place playwrights in a subsidiary position to actors and producers. The message being sent is that actors are salable items and authors are not."
Stone's revenge may take shape this summer with a change in the Guild rules: If CBS won't recognize the merit of book-writers, the book writers won't allow their material to be used on the awards show.
In response, Tony producer Roy Somlyo told the NY Post, "You get intelligent speeches from writers, but not necessarily the kinds of things that make for great television. I hope wisdom will prevail."
That's not the only controversy over this year's high-profile, more commercialized awards. Echoing the decision to protest outside the non-unionized Selwyn Theatre where the Wooster Group's Hairy Ape is playing (a dispute that has since been resolved to the satisfaction of both parties), the Association of Theatrical Press Agents and Managers (ATPAM) has been sending out a letter expressing disapproval that the Tonys are being held at Radio City Music Hall and not a legit Broadway theatre. According to ATPAM, Radio City doesn't recognize its Union and is "embroiled in a labor dispute with another union." While the letter stops short of pickets, boycotts or any disruptive action (ATPAM will withdraw its usual ad from the Tony program), ATPAM does take to task Jed Bernstein, executive director of the League of American Theatres & Producers, for a "continued practice" of entering into agreements with companies that either skirt around the Union or eschew the Union altogether.
ATPAM secretary-treasurer Berenice Weiler told Playbill On-Line the League has not officially responded to the letter, though Bernstein has made clear that it's important for the Tonys to be held at Radio City because of the theatre's size, and because CBS has a strong interest in holding the awards at that venue.
Asked why ATPAM is taking issue with the Tonys at Radio City, even though they've had no problem with the Christmas shows and seasonal Spectaculars at the venue, Weiler replied, "It's a celebration of Broadway. It's a Broadway event, and, for example, there are house managers in all the Broadway theatres, but none at Radio City." Weiler said the Radio City issue came up at a board meeting two weeks ago.
The busy, stressful end-of-season is definitely taking its toll on individuals as well as organizations. Several sources have reported that television theatre critic Stewart Klein and New York Magazine theatre critic John Simon got into a shoving match, with angry words exchanged, at a recent press movie screening.
--By David Lefkowitz