New York City is a region.
That was the sudden and surprising conclusion to be drawn on June 13, when the Tony Awards Administration Committee announced that, starting with the 2013-14 theatrical season, New York-based Off-Broadway theatre companies will be eligible to receive the Regional Theatre Award.
The change in policy upended, in one stroke, the nature and scope of the annual honor, which has been handed out every year since 1976 to a noted U.S. theatre lying outside of New York's five boroughs. Recipients of the award include the Shakespeare Theatre Company of Washington, D.C.; Lookingglass Theatre Company, Chicago, IL; Eugene O'Neill Theatre Company, Waterford, CT; Signature Theatre, Arlington, VA; Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, Chicago, IL; Alliance Theatre, Atlanta, GA; and Intiman Playhouse, Seattle, WA, among others.
"The Tony Awards support excellence in the theatre — from home town community theatre to Broadway. The Regional Theatre Award honors artistic achievement contributing to the growth of theatre nationally," said Charlotte St. Martin, executive director of The Broadway League, and Heather Hitchens, executive director of the American Theatre Wing, in a joint statement on June 13. "New York has some of the most prestigious and creative theatre groups in the country and we are thrilled to include the New York theatre community in this category."
The award was first suggested to the Tonys — which is run jointly by The Broadway League and the American Theatre Wing — by the American Theatre Critics Association, a national confederation of professional theatre critics who work for newspapers, magazines, radio, television and on-line services across the United States. The association was formed in 1974. The annual winner of the award is based on a recommendation made by the ATCA to the Tonys. The ATCA comes upon its recommendation through a weighted ballot, in which members consider several nominated companies which have been recommended by individual members.
"So far, they have not rejected any of them," said Jay Handelman, theatre critic for the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, who is chair at the ATCA. "There may have been a couple raised eyebrows, but I don't think they've rejected any."
The announcement took many by surprise, including some members at the ATCA.
"We were told sometime in the last year that they were interested in expanding this thing," said Jay Handelman. "I can't say we had formal talks about it." He added, "I knew she had conversations with Chris Jones, who is chairman of regional theatre committee."
Jones, theatre critic for the Chicago Tribune, confirmed that he did indeed have discussions with St. Martin. "I talked to Charlotte about it and she shared with me that there was a desire to include New York theatre," he said. "My response to it was that the ATCA does not give out Tony Awards. That is the province of the League and the Wing. The question for me is more how we could administrate that award with New York included, and I thought we could."
Opinion on the move was divided. Those opposed to the change pointed out that the Regional Tony was one of the few avenues by which theatre companies outside of New York could garner attention.
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