Change in Policy Makes New York Companies Eligible for Regional Tony Award

By Robert Simonson
28 Jun 2013

Jennifer Garvey Blackwell
Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN
Others, however, felt that the change made sense and was long overdue.

"I always think for anyone working in the arts, any kind of recognition is good, though that's not why we do it, obviously," said Jennifer Garvey Blackwell, executive producer of Off-Broadway's Vineyard Theatre. "It always seemed a little that New York nonprofits were not included, because in a way, in New York, if you're not Broadway, you're, quote, 'in the regions of New York.' It's a whole different world. There's so much great work being done in the regions. I don't want to take anything away from them."

Some theatre observers, including Rizzo, wondered aloud why the League and Wing hadn't simply decided to create a new Tony Award that honored a different New York Off-Broadway nonprofit every year, rather than recognized them through the Regional Theatre Tony. Heather Hitchens, executive director of The American Theatre Wing, had an answer to that.

"That would, I think, send an interesting and not-too-good message to the theatres across the country that New York is better artistically than they are," said Hitchens, "and we don't believe that to be true."

Some critics concur with this view that considering New York theatres separately reflects negatively on theatres companies in other cities and states. "I was always persuaded by the argument that New York is a region," said Jones. "This is my Chicago point of view coming out, but my feeling was that 'regional' was in some senses a perforative term when coming from New York. Add New York to that mix and the term's meaning changes."

According to Hitchens and Charlotte St. Martin, the executive director of the Broadway League, the change had been long in coming.

"It's no secret that we've been wanting to include New York theatres in our recognition," said Hitchens. "We've been talking about it for a number of years on how to do it. I think the message here is this is one big ecology: Broadway, Off-Broadway, throughout the country, and it's all interdependent on each other."

The alteration in eligibility comes with some stipulations. New York nonprofits who own a theatre on Broadway will not be eligible for the Regional Tony. The means the Roundabout Theatre Company, Manhattan Theatre Club and Lincoln Center Theater — which regularly collect Tonys for their Broadway productions — will not be adding another Tony to their trophy cases. Additionally, Off-Broadway companies will not be eligible for the Regional Tony during any season in which they transfer a production to Broadway.

Further guidelines are currently be worked out, but it seems likely that there will be a proviso that will prevent any city — including New York—from winning the award two years in a row.

Though the ruling is a fait accompli, the discussion surrounding it is not likely to end soon. The ATCA will be holding its annual conference at the Contemporary American Theatre Festival in Shepherdstown, WV, in July.

"When I saw the announcement, I send a message to all the board members, telling them of this change," said Handelman. "We're going to be discussing it at our annual conference. There is going to be some healthy debate about it."

Handelman said he wished to keep his personal opinion of the policy change off the record until the conference. He did add, however, "My feeling is we're probably going to continue doing this, and find a way of doing it that suits everyone's needs."