ASK PLAYBILL.COM: Tony Statuettes

By Zachary Pincus-Roth
May 22, 2008

Playbill.com answers your (and sometimes our own) theatre-related questions.

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This week's question comes from the Playbill.com staff.

Question: A Tony Award statuette made news recently when a 1991 Tony for Best Musical Revival, which went to Fiddler on the Roof, was sold at a Dallas auction in April for $5,676.25.

How many statuettes are made each year? How are they constructed? How are they prevented from being sold? When are the winner's names engraved? And, is the statuette that the winner lifts into the air on television the same one he or she gets to take home?

Answer: Let's start with that last question: This year will be the fourth year in which the answer is yes, according to Jean Kroeper, manager for Tony Award administration at the Broadway League.

The statuettes on the winners' shelves at home have their names engraved in the medallion, the metal disc that spins around on top of the black base. But since no one but the accounting firm that counts the votes can know the winners before the ceremony, the statuettes can't be engraved until afterwards.

It takes about two weeks for the performers', designers' and directors' engravings. The producers take longer. For the Play, Musical, Play Revival and Musical Revival categories (and the Theatrical Event category when they have it), the producers in each category get two awards for free, but can order more if they pay the cost (which Kroeper wouldn't reveal). Every producer whose name is above the title is allowed to get one, and basically 99.99 percent of them choose to do so, Kroeper says. Organizations that are above the title get one for every principal in the organization, up to four and the organization's name is what's engraved, not the person's name. Last year's Best Musical winner Spring Awakening has so many producers above the title, Kroeper says, that "last year's producer Tony orders basically took the entire summer to fill."

"When The Producers won, it was a good year," adds Frank DiBella, co-owner of Academy Engraving, who has been working on the construction and engraving of the Tony statuettes for about 15 years. "They were ordering some for everybody. We even laser-engraved brooms because they 'swept' the Tonys. Somebody brought in actual brooms, and we laser engraved all the names in the handles."

For many years, during the ceremony, about ten blank statuettes were used over and over again. But starting four years ago Kroeper decided to change the system, so that the winners could keep their Tonys for the rest of the evening and take them home. "It would be nice that they could walk it around and share it with their friends and family and cast and crew," Kroeper says.

So, this year (as in the three previous years), before the ceremony, Kroeper receives about 75 blank statuettes. She writes down the serial numbers of each statuette and which statuettes will be given out for which categories. In categories like Best Score where there are multiple winners, she sets aside the maximum possible number of statuettes, and after those winners walk offstage she taps each one on the shoulder and asks to check the serial number to write down who was given which one by the attractive women you see handing them out on television.

Over the next couple days, Kroeper rounds up all the awards, typically by sending a messenger service to the winner's home or to the theatre where the winner is performing. During the week of June 16, messengers will be biking around New York City with Tonys sticking out of their backpacks? "Usually someone's placed it in a bag or something," she says. "It's usually concealed." Tony statuettes began getting serial numbers in 1996 to keep track of them in case they get stolen or sold (the lower serial number is 101, on the statuette given to Peter Stone for the book of Titanic). After the ceremony, but before (or sometimes right when) the winners pick up their engraved awards, they have to sign what Kroeper calls "a medallion agreement." "The medallion agreement is basically stating that if they wish to not own their award any more, they would give Tony Awards Productions first rights to buy it back for them, so you don't have awards going up on auction," she says.

Now, about the construction of the statuette. It's made of three parts:

  • The medallion, which is a mix of mostly brass and a little bronze, with a nickel plating on the outside. A company on West Broadway in Manhattan stamps the brass-bronze with the medallion's design, similar to how a coin gets minted. The medallion then goes to a plater in Rhode Island for the nickel plating, which gives it a polish, and is "a good surface for engraving" the winner's name, DiBella says. (For a video on how a medallion is made, check out one of the video features in the middle of the main page of the Tony Awards website).

  • The base, which is black acrylic glass, a synthetic material used instead of regular glass. "Acrylic is good because it take a beating and yet it still looks elegant," DiBella says. The base is made by an acrylic caster in Quebec.

  • The swivel, made of nickel-plated pewter, is the small piece that holds the medallion to the base and allows it to spin around. The swivel is made by a caster in California.

  • The elegant, black, velvet-lined box that the winners receive that can hold the Tony. It's constructed in Massachusetts.

    Before the ceremony, all the components are shipped to DiBella's company, Academy Engraving, at 271 Madison Avenue, at 40th Street, to be put together by DiBella's team of about five people. (All the materials used to be made in New York City, DiBella says, until EPA regulations forced chemical companies to move elsewhere).

    Winners who have had their awards lost or stolen such as Carol Channing and Patricia Neal can get new ones. If your Tony falls off the shelf, you can bring it to Kroeper who will send it to DiBella, whose company has fixed Tonys for Dick Van Dyke and others.

    DiBella says there's a squadron of about ten Tonys that are used for promotional purposes, such as department-store windows. They get banged up the most he fixes about six or seven of them every year.

    What makes a Tony harder to construct than an Oscar or Emmy? "It does something: it spins," says DiBella. "So many awards are just statues." It's tough to create a statuette with moving parts that is still "stable and durable enough so that the piece doesn't fall apart," he says.

    So on June 15, if you win a Tony statuette, you can hoist it into the air, take it to the party, take photos with it, have everyone coo over it and spin the medallion over and over again as you ride the limo (or the N train) home. Just don't sell it.