It’s a pretty award in theory, but in practice?

Can you feel it?  Or more importantly, can you see it?

We’re getting closer and closer to award season, and if you look closely, you can see the potential crop of nominees readying their stations for battle.  A few have already starting taking out bigger-than-necessary ads and outdoor as they start to position themselves amongst the voters.

We’ll talk more about awards and nominations as we get closer to T-Day, but yesterday I was inspired to do some digging after a conversation with a member of the board of the Drama Desk Awards, the only award the combines all New York Theatrical productions under one umbrella.

From their website:

“At the time of the Drama Desk’s founding, the only major awards honoring New York theatre’s creative men and women were the Antoinette Perry Awards, better known as “The Tonys”.  These awards only celebrate those productions produced in Broadway theatres, while ignoring the hundreds of stage productions presented each year Off-Broadway, Off-Off Broadway and in legitimate not-for-profit theatres.  Since Drama Desk members cover not only Broadway productions, but all New York theatre productions, the organization decided in 1955 to create its own awards celebrating creative stage achievements wherever they were presented.”

That’s a beautiful sentiment, isn’t it?  They don’t discriminate.  Theater is theatre, whether it’s on Broadway
or Off-Broadway, or whether it’s spelled with an “er” or an “re”.

It’s a great theory.  But does it work in practice?

As Jerry Lewis says every Labor Day, “Let’s go to the toteboard!”

The ‘Best Musical’ Drama Desk Award was started during the 1974-1975 season.  In the last 32 years, how many Off-Broadway musicals have won the Best Musical Award?

Zero.

Hmmmmmm . . .

Ok, prior to the Best Musical Award, the DDs gave an award for Best Overall Production.

How many Off-Broadway musicals won this award?

One.  Kind of.

In the ’62-63 season a musical called The Coach with Six Insides won but it was not the only winner.  It shared the award with The Boys From Syracuse. (And you know it wasn’t an exact tie – it’s almost as if the board said, “We can’t just give it to an Off-Broadway show . . . Broadway will be mad at us!”)

So, in 53 years, there has only been one Off-Broadway show that has ever won the big prize.  And it had to share.

Why?  Is it because Off-Broadway shows move to Broadway before they are considered for the award?  Is it because Off-Broadway shows that don’t move aren’t as good?

Or, is it because the Drama Desk voters are human like the rest of us, and they fall prey to the same mass marketing of the major shows.  When it comes down to picking that winner, there is no doubt that the big Broadway shows are going to be more top of mind than any Off-Broadway show.

Let’s look at the plays.

In the last 53 years, there have been 7 Off-Broadway plays that have received the Best Play award from the DDs.  14%.  Still pretty low if you ask me.

So what should the Drama Desks do?

Well, because of the nature of our business, it’s hard to give everyone a fair shot.  If they really want to acknowledge everyone . . . if that is their mission statement . . . then they have to create separate awards for Off-Broadway and Off-Off-Broadway.

Awards are important for these productions.  On Altar Boyz, we discovered in a survey that the fact we won the Outer Critics Circle Award for Best Off-Broadway Musical was the strongest piece of info we had to convince someone to buy a ticket!

If the Drama Deskers don’t want to separate the awards, then that’s ok, too.  It’s their awards.  But they should change their website, because whether they know it or not, the data demonstrates that they too are “ignoring the hundreds of stage productions presented each year Off-Broadway . . .”

Special thanks to my assistant, Michael Roderick, for the Drama Desk research.

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Comments
  • patrick says:

    Unfortunately, the Drama Desk Awards also need to remove any reference to considering Off-Off Broadway productions. Seeing as how they recently changed their rules to include:
    “A seventeen performance minimum is required to qualify for award eligibility, barring any extraordinary circumstances, as may be determined by the Drama Desk Executive Board or by the Nominating Committee.”
    That’s basically a punch in the nads to any Equity Showcase production, seeing as how the Showcase code stipulates no more than 16 performances.

  • patrick says:

    Unfortunately, the Drama Desk Awards also need to remove any reference to considering Off-Off Broadway productions. Seeing as how they recently changed their rules to include:
    “A seventeen performance minimum is required to qualify for award eligibility, barring any extraordinary circumstances, as may be determined by the Drama Desk Executive Board or by the Nominating Committee.”
    That’s basically a punch in the nads to any Equity Showcase production, seeing as how the Showcase code stipulates no more than 16 performances.

  • RLewis says:

    Does Patrick’s point mean that DD supports non-union OOB, just not 99-seat union work? Where’s the union on this?

  • Theatreguy says:

    I’m a Drama League Award voter — which is actually the oldest award in America, predating the Tonys by 12 years and the only major theatrical award to be voted by theatregoers (although the nominations are picked by a cross-section of the industry, artists and audiences). I’m not sure that the League has a much better track record than anyone else on honoring Off-Broadway on the production side of things (WIT was the last to win, back in ’99), but at least our performance awards go to Off-Broadway occasion (Kathleen Chalfant for Wit, Eileen Heckart for the Waverly Gallery, Christine Ebersole for the Off-Broadway Grey Gardens, and Mary-Louise Parker for How I Learned To Drive, off the top of my head).
    Sure, all awards are silly exercises to some degree, but for decades it’s been clear that the Drama Desks, in particular, are all about star-$#@!ing. They shamelessly pander, their ceremony (which I’ve attended) is a nightmare, and they have about 4,000 different categories, which makes for a very, very long night and little actual currency for the honorees.
    If awards have any value, they are to celebrate true excellence and to create a marketing opportunity for the shows that deserve to be noticed. I’m all for separating Off-Broadway and Broadway…and plan to make that suggestion to the powers that be for the Drama League. Don’t know if it’ll go anywhere, but I hope so.

  • imnotcocteau says:

    The statistics are nice, BUT please name a show from off-Broadway or off-off-Broadway that should have won over the Broadway show that did win that specific year. Unless you do that, your statistics are empty and your attacks groundless.

  • Michael Dale says:

    The 1963 production of The Boys From Syracuse was Off-Broadway.

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