2014 Tony-Winning Sound Designers and John Gromada "Sound Off" on Sound Design Category Elimination

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12 Jun 2014

Brian Ronan
Brian Ronan
Joseph Marzullo/WENN

Following the Tony Awards Administration Committee meeting June 11 — and the announcement that the Tony Awards for Sound Design of a Play and Musical have been eliminated — members of the theatre community responded in protest.

With no reason announced for removal of the creative arts category (which was instated in 2008), John Gromada, a two-time Drama Desk-winning sound designer for The Best Man and The Skirker and a Tony nominee for last year's The Trip to Bountiful, began a petition to have it reinstated.

"The way they did this is they didn't even announce that they had problems with the category or that [its removal] was being considered," Gromada explained to Playbill.com by phone. "We could have addressed some of their concerns. There used to be some concern about people not knowing how to judge sound design, but I don't understand why it's any different than lighting design [or other creative categories]… In fact, when we established the award, we gave the nominators guidelines about what to look for in sound design, and we can help expand and educate people about sound design more if that's the concern.

"But, we've really been working to elevate this as a design art for as long as I've been in the business, which was since 1986, and we've made progress everywhere except — it seems — on Broadway. The Broadway community recognizes this, and the American Theatre Wing should understand that. The Broadway community supports sound design and sound design as an art form, which is what it is."

The petition started by Gromada — which can be found here at ThePetitionSite.com — originally set a goal of 1,000 signatures, but, to date, has over 10,000 names attached.



Gromada — who focuses his design particularly on plays — explained that the artists must design the sound system, design sounds, choose music (occasionally writing the music), act as music consultants and sound editors and develop an overall concept for how sound is used in the production.

What most theatregoers may not understand, he said, is that "I work with a director to develop an entire sound world for the production and execute it… We frame productions as they should be framed, we help transition, [and] we underscore action."

Although the designers may not be at the production on a daily basis after it has opened, he said that designers are "responsible for programming the way the sound works" and teaching those who mix the sound and work the soundboard. They also return to the production for maintenance and upkeep.

Steve Canyon Kennedy, also reached by phone, asked, "Why take it away? I can't see the reasoning in that." The designer, who took home this year's Tony for Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill and was Tony-nominated in 2011 for Catch Me If You Can, is looking for answers behind the administration's decision.

When Tony voters attend shows, he said, "You judge a Broadway show on its whole. You judge the book writing, the orchestrations — everything… Everything involved in that show is an art form. They all should take equal credit for making that show a success or a failure… If they were moved by everything, that alone should be a yes vote."

If voters don't know how to properly determine the best sound design, he said, "Let us judge it." He explained that sound designers truly know what to look for in production quality and that the elimination of its Tony category should not make sound design any less of an art.

Brian Ronan, a Tony winner for The Book of Mormon's sound design and a recent winner for Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, issued a statement to Playbill.com that read, "I was made sad to get the news of the category’s elimination. I don’t think anyone with knowledge of theatrical production questions the significance that sound design plays in the success of a play or musical. Like most people in our business, I have been blessed to find a profession that I am passionate about, that allows me to work alongside great writers, composers, musicians and singers. The motivation to excel comes not from the possibility of an award or, frankly, money, but the desire to provide the best that my craft will allow.

"I suppose, however, it's the lack of tangibility in sound that led to the Tony's decision to eliminate us from the ceremony. Our craft is at its highest when the audience is unaware of our presence, when the sound complements and moves the audience without drawing attention to itself. The Tony committee can be forgiven for taking the hard work that goes into invisibility for granted.

"Theatrical sound design has technically been around since 1961, and it took till 2008 to create the category and only six years to retract. I'll admit it was nice while it lasted. For me, I'll miss the Tonys, I'll miss the pre-ceremony tradition of having cocktails with my fellow nominees, and I'll feel regret for the unrecognized work of the previous generation of sound designers and those to follow. However next year on Tony night I'll do as I've done in the past and make some popcorn at home and cheer on my colleagues and the community as whole and, yes, there will be twinge of regret that there's a great ball that I'm not invited to."

It should be noted that the June 11 decision came with the proviso that the Tony committee holds the right to determine a special Tony Award for certain productions that have excelled in this particular design realm.