How many Tony Voters does it take to pick a winner?

Sounds like the beginning of a joke, right?

Well, it’s not.  Tony winners are a serious matter because of the impact they can have on people’s lives, economic and otherwise.  A Tony winner can provide jobs for hundreds.  A Tony winner could get an actor or director a shot at film.  And so on. It’s a big deal.

All of this was going through my mind today as I filled out my Tony ballot (see it here).

I made the mistake of doing some quick calculations in my head, and made a realization . . . this big deal is decided by a relatively small number of people.

Let me do some back-of-a-blog math for you.

According to the Tony Awards website, there are 868 voters.

Now, while Broadway shows invite all 868 of those voters, we never, ever get every one to come.  In fact, the most I’ve seen is 65%, which means 564 voters.

Let me repeat . . . that is the max I’ve seen.  For some shows, it’s probably much lower.  And we also know that there’s a good deal of Tony Voter fraud out there and that the people that see the shows on Tony Voter tickets aren’t actually the voters themselves.

But let’s keep working with the max of 564.

Do all of those people that come actually submit their ballots?  Probably not.  There has got to be some attrition.  Ballots get lost.  They don’t arrive on time.  People forget.  Whatever.

I’d take off another 10%, or 56 voters to get down to 508.

508 voters decide major prizes, and, well, actually define theatrical history (Tony Award winning plays are done more often than non-Tony Award winning plays).

But wait, let’s keep going.

Let’s take a race for, oh, I don’t know, Best Musical . . . and say it’s a tight race between two major contenders.  Well, look, just because it’s a tight race between two, doesn’t mean that the other two aren’t going to get ANY votes, right?  There are “friends of the court” on all shows, and those votes count.  I’d guesstimate that at least 50 votes each go to the other nominees . . . leaving only 408 votes remaining between the two top shots.  408.

Split that evenly and you’ve got 204 each.  So if it was super close, it could be 220 to 188.

Starting to see the picture I’m drawing here?

The actual margins that decide the winners of these big, fat, history defining awards can be super small.  10, 20 . . . even less!

Is the process broken?  No, that’s not what I’m trying to say (although I do think there should be more Tony Voter policing going on).

What I’m trying to say is that if you’re a Producer of a show that is in the hunt for a Tony, then you have to realize that the race is a lot closer than you think. Just a handful of voters could determine whether or not you walk home empty handed on Tony night.

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  • Jeff Sweet says:

    Didn’t know I was so powerful. By the way, I did see everything on the ballot this year, and have for as long as I’ve been a voter. Where do I pick up the medal?

  • George Rady says:

    Are we sure that winning a “Tony” has significant impact? Like stats on shows that were trending – down – and then trended… up?

    Honestly, as much as I love Broadway and Live Theatre, I pay about as much attention to the Tonys as the Oscars… I ignore ’em.

    I figure it’s an – insiders’ game – and discount the value of anything that’s being “sold” to the public…

    Like the Stock Market – in fact EXACTLY like the Stock Market! (And I rarely play that game too – even though I make my living by counting the “picks n shovels” with which others go panning for “gold”

    The ONE good thing about the Tonys is – just – being “nominated” – it’s a good way to whittle down a list of dozens of shows to – just – ten… then I skip the winner and go for the one and two that interest me because of what it’s about….

    I hazard to guess that this is more typical than imagining a “winner” is the ONLY one we should see… to the exclusion of others that also ran….


  • Sue says:

    It all makes sense, but concerns me much less than, say, questionable vote counting tactics in Florida in 2000 actually defining history.

  • It seems crazy to me to have so many voters! 868 voters?! Thats crazy!

    Surely it makes more sense to have a very small group (say 20) of highly qualified, objective people of the theatre (not those who have vested interest in one show winning over another), that are selected each year. This way, we can ensure that integrity is maintained, and that the shows that win are actually those that are most deserving. Or perhaps that’s wishful thinking!

  • RR says:

    It seems odd to me that theater critics, while having plenty of their own awards, are excluded from the Tonys. For one, the critic will most likely have seen all or at least most of the Tony nominated shows as a prerequisite for his/her job. Secondly, although one can never completely eliminate bias, a critic will likely approach voting from a more outsider perspective. Given the ephemeral nature of theater, seeing every show will always be a difficulty and given the inherent cross-pollination of the industry, bias will always be a factor. Perhaps by allowing critics to vote, a counterbalance can be struck.

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