Special Tony Award Post: Three Myths About Tony Award Voting.

As we head into the nail-biting Tony Awards weekend, and as Producers are counting votes like the Minority Whip in the House of Representatives over an impeachment bill, I thought I’d dispel some common misconceptions about the Tony Award voting process.  And how do I know these are common?  Because I used to believe them myself!

So take these myths into account as you place your final votes on your Tony pool ballot this year.

1.  MYTH #1:  The “road” votes as a block for what will work well in their touring markets.

This is one of the oldest Broadway wives’ tales around.  And on paper it makes sense.  The theory being that the 100+ road-folk who are on the Tony Voter list vote with their markets in mind, and check boxes for shows that their audience will enjoy the most (which tends to be more, ahem, “commercial,” fare).

To that I say . . . The Band’s Visit beat Frozen and Mean Girls.  Avenue Q beat Wicked.  A Gentleman’s Guide beat Aladdin.  Fun Home won.  So did Once.  

History is filled with Best Musical prize winners that had shorter touring lives than the nominees they beat.  Voters vote with what they think is best . . . and actually, that tends to be the more “artistic” shows.

(There’s actually more of a correlation between a positive New York Times review than what will work on the road – which is consistent with the “art wins” idea.  And if Hadestown wins this Sunday, well . . . I rest my case.)

2.  MYTH #2:  Everybody votes.

When I was an Associate Company Manager on Broadway shows and handled Tony voting, I was shocked to see that not everyone reserved their tickets.  In fact, the highest turnout I’ve ever seen personally over the last 25 years (and the highest turnout I’ve ever heard of, from talking to my peers) is about 67%-70%.

A ton of voters aren’t in town.  Some just don’t vote.  Some can’t vote.

And this year, the Broadway League instituted a new “lock-out” feature on the electronic voting platform that prevents voters from checking a box in a category if they haven’t seen all the shows.  And they’re policing it big time.  Which is awesome.  (It’s a fantastic new security procedure that will take some of the politics out of the process and ensure more truth in voting, and I’m a big fan.)

That said, it may mean fewer votes.  Which means even closer races.  (Not to mention there are more shows on Broadway now than there were several years ago, which just makes it harder for people to see everything to be able to vote.)

Let’s do some quick math:  800 or so voters.  70% is 560.  If a few shows or performers split a vote, that could mean each nominee could get 150 or so votes.  That means the big prizes could be settled by just a handful!  So every vote counts (now) more than ever.

(I do wonder if we will see an increase in the number of voters in the coming years, just like we saw an increase in the number of nominators a few years ago, to guarantee a big swath of decision makers choosing what shows and artists will go down in history.)

3.  MYTH #3:  Campaigning doesn’t work.

Advertising works.  In everything.  And while there’s a fine line in awards campaigning between what sways a vote and what pushes a vote in the opposite direction, the right campaign can do what great advertising does . . . remind a decision maker of the benefits of a product and why that decision maker should use and recommend that product to others.

A few voter friends of mine have scoffed at the amount of stuff that gets mailed to each voter every single year, thinking that it doesn’t change their mind.  It might not change it, but I do know that campaigning can make people think twice.  It’s becoming a huge strategy with some science as well.

Hollywood has brought on special Academy Awards Campaigners for award season.  I wouldn’t be surprised to see the same thing happen in our industry in the next five years.

No matter what myth you believe in or don’t, the fact is that Sunday is the biggest night for the theater of the entire year.  And this Sunday looks to be one of the most exciting in terms of the number of possible upsets!

So, you’re tuning in, right?

Sunday night.  8 PM.  CBS.  Full details here.


I’m having a Tony party.  Want to come?  Email me for how to get on the invite list.

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  • Joe Marino says:

    instead of hiring Hollywood-type Awards Campaigners , I’d much rather see that money invested in the show- if need be, in discounting tickets to get people in the seats. Word of mouth is the greatest advertisement. Excited audience members will get the word out and get butts in the seats.

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Ken Davenport
Ken Davenport

Tony Award-Winning Broadway Producer

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