Protest Prompts Drama Desk to Reconsider Elimination of Outstanding Book Category

News   Protest Prompts Drama Desk to Reconsider Elimination of Outstanding Book Category
Promises to “reconvene” next week to address outcry from the Dramatists Guild and members of the theatre community.
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Drama Desk President Charles Wright

The New York Drama Desk will reconvene the week of May 1 to address protests over its decision to eliminate the category of Outstanding Book of a Musical from its 2016 award nominations, which were announced April 28.

Some within the theatre community noted that not a single writer was nominated in the category of Outstanding Book of a Musical. The category had been eliminated without explanation.

In its announcement of the nominations, the Drama Desk nominating committee, which includes David Barbour, Peter Filichia, David Finkle, Sandy MacDonald, Andy Propst, Diane Snyder, Douglas Strassler and Drama Desk president Charles Wright, made no mention as to why the category was dropped for the 2015-16 season.

The Broadway juggernaut Hamilton, which premiered Off-Broadway last season, won the 2015 Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Book of a Musical. Unlike the Tony Awards, which only recognize Broadway productions, the Drama Desks may nominate productions both on and Off-Broadway in a given season — providing the nominating committee with an ample amount of shows to consider.

The 2016 Drama Desk Award nominations can be read here.

Among the writers who took note of the omission was Tony Award-winning Fun Home composer Jeanine Tesori, who tweeted:

The April 28 nominations included the following statement from nominating committee chair David Barbour: “The nature of the work we've seen this particular season led us to make a few changes in the awards categories. In the case of design, the committee was moved to create separate categories for musicals and non-musicals in all four disciplines, also adding a category for wig and hair design. The committee also chose not to make any nominations this year in the categories of Outstanding Book of a Musical and Outstanding Revue.”

Dramatists Guild president Doug Wright, who has twice been nominated in the Outstanding Book of a Musical category, penned a letter to Drama Desk president Charles Wright on April 29, questioning why the committee was unable to select “worthy candidates” to nominate.

The letter, in full, follows:

Dear Mr. Wright,

The Dramatists Guild was disappointed to see that the Award for Best Book of a Musical was shelved this year, and that the reason cited was a dearth of worthy candidates. The nominating committee was able to select five potential Best Musicals, so it's curious that it found no commendable book among them.

Admittedly, the book writer's specific contributions are often hard to discern; they can sometimes be found in story-telling conceits, in dialogue or in the crafting of particular scenes. But more often than not, the book writer is the architect of the show as a whole. While his or her work isn't always apparent, it is essential. Musicals cannot exist without the storytellers at their core.

It's been a compelling season both aesthetically and financially on Broadway. Musical book writers deserve at least some of the credit for the year's success, and we're painfully aggrieved that it's being denied to them.


Doug Wright
President, Dramatists Guild of America

In response, the Drama Desk issued a brief unsigned statement of its own the evening of April 29:

We have heard the concerns of the theatre community about this year's omission of the Outstanding Book of a Musical category, and take them seriously. The Nominating Committee will reconvene to address the matter next week.

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