The right to vote . . . restored! Kind of.

Last week, a compromise was reached between the Tony Awards and the critical press after almost a year of a very public and tense standoff.

Here’s what happened:

On July 14, 2009, the Tonys sent all the reviewers on the “First Night Press List” (those who are invited to see shows on opening night or before) a letter saying that their Tony voter status had been revoked.  An excerpt from the letter stated the following reasons for the change:

 

Please note that this change in no way affects your inclusion on the First Night Press List. As you know, a committee of Broadway press agents develops and administers the First Night Press List, and it does not fall under the purview of Tony Award Productions, The Broadway League, or the American Theatre Wing.

In making this decision, the Tony Management Committee took into account that members of the First Night Press List will of course continue to have the opportunity to express their critical opinions in reviews and other coverage of the theatre season. In addition, the Management Committee took into consideration the fact that certain publications and individual critics have historically pursued a policy of abstaining from voting on entertainment awards in general, to avoid any possible conflicts of interest in fulfilling their primary responsibilities as journalists.”

Ok. Makes sense.  If the Tony Awards don’t control the list, you can see why they might be concerned about who is able to cast a ballot.  Can you imagine a co-op board allowing someone to vote for a building amendment if they didn’t have a say in who was living in the building?  

But, you can without a doubt see the side of the critics who jumped up and down concerned about the lack of the critical voice in the block of voters.  

All in all, about 100 people’s privileges were revoked.  And a lot of those 100 people were very vocal about their displeasure.  

Last week, the Tonys listened.

It was announced on March 25, 2010, less than two months before voting begins, that members of the Drama Critics’ Circle, a group that has been around since 1935, a group that has membership guidelines, structure, meetings, executive leadership and their own awards, will be allowed to cast a vote for the Tony Awards.

While this will still leave several of those first nighters without a vote, I think this was a wonderful compromise that allows the Tonys to establish more of a structure to the body of voters, while ensuring that this body is made up of the most diverse group of contributors to our unique world.  

Critics have a place in this world.  And they should have a vote.  I’m now thankful that they do.

Oh, by the way, I would have linked to the Variety article about this subject . . . but they’ve put their stories behind a e-wall now.  I wonder how that’s gonna work out for them. Here’s a Theatermania article instead.

To read more about the Drama Critics’ Circle, click here.

5 Reasons why we shouldn’t have gotten rid of Special Theatrical Event this season.

Immediately following last year’s Tony Awards, the Admin Committee decided to strike the “Special Theatrical Event” Tony from the list of trophies that it would hand out in the future.

The Special Event kudos was created following the bizarre Best Musical win in 2000 for Susan Stroman’s dance piece, Contact, which lacked an original score and a live orchestra (and was even billed as a “dance play”).

I wrote about my disappointment over the demise of this category when it happened.  Now, almost a season later, I’ve come up with five more reasons why the Special Event should have stuck around.

Those five reasons are:

1.  Wishful Drinking

2.  Burn The Floor

3.  All About Me

4.  Come Fly Away

5.  Sondheim on Sondheim

(And could Fela! have lobbied for Special Event, rather than try and go up against Addams Family or American Idiot?  It would have lost the lobby, but it would have been interesting.)

While I understand the theory of cutting the category, I’m not sure I understand why it couldn’t continue on an “as needed” basis.  Surely there was enough “specialness” this year to warrant at least three nominations and one trophy.  Otherwise, is it really fair for Wishful Drinking to have to compete against Enron for a nomination for Best Play?  And what about the reverse?  If Come Fly Away pulls a Contact and gets nominated for Best Musical (despite using Frank Sinatra vocals and being primarily a dance piece), another more conventional and maybe even original musical may get snubbed.  I know if I were a producer of a snubbed original, I’d be pretty peeved.  And this specific example could very well happen, as I hear Fly Away is fantastic.  I smell trouble, with a capital T and that stands for Tony.

If the Admin Committee does really want to do away with the category, there is another way to prevent the above nightmare from happening.

Expand the number of nominees for Best Musical when needed, as I discussed here.

Awards are about celebrating our community’s artistic achievement first, and about marketing second.  I’m not sure how setting this amount of artistry aside accomplishes either.

10 Questions for a Broadway Pro. Volume 1: A Broadway Mad Man.

Today on The Producer’s Perspective we’re introducing a brand new feature, which is a spin-off on my Advice From An Expert articles.

In “10 Questions for a Broadway Pro,” I ask . . . yep . . . a Broadway Industry Professional 10 Questions!

We’ll talk to all sorts of people involved in the modern theater and get their perspective on their job, their role in the biz and what they’d like to see change.  We’re gonna hear from Casting Directors, Marketing Directors, Press Agents, and more (let me know if there is a position you’d like to hear from).

The inspiration for this feature came from my first gig on a Broadway show.  I was the Production Assistant on the Barry and Fran Weissler revival of My Fair Lady, starring Richard Chamberlain and a 23-year-old Melissa Errico.  My duties included everything from getting Richard his fresh-off-the-bone turkey sandwiches to typing up the rehearsal schedule on a Mac Classic.

And it was one of the greatest times of my life.

The best part about the gig was that I was exposed to a whole bunch of people and positions that I never knew existed before.  The job gave me a chance to see who was pulling the curtain strings of Broadway . . . and made me realize that I was even more excited about being behind-the-scenes rather than in them (I was on the actor-track).

I used to ask everyone involved in the show questions about what they did. Thanks to their answers, I learned so much about what I wanted to do and what I didn’t want to do.

So, I thought I’d give you a virtual experience of what I went through back then, and introduce you to not only the biggest players on Broadway whose names aren’t on the marquees, but also help us all understand what exactly they do on a day-to-day basis.

First up is one of Broadway’s own Mad Men, Drew Hodges, the founder and CEO of SpotCo, one of the two Broadway heavyweight ad agencies.  (Drew also happens to be #21 on BroadwaySpace.com’s 50 Most Powerful People.)

Having sat in many an ad meeting with Drew, I can tell you that he’s one of a very rare hybrid that combines incredible business acumen with unbridled creativity.

Without further ado, here are 10 Questions with Drew!

1.    What is your title?

Founder, SpotCo Advertising

2.    What show/shows are you currently working on?

Next Fall, Million Dollar Quartet, La Cage, Memphis, A Behanding in Spokane, Chicago, The Pee Wee Herman Show, Priscilla Queen of the Desert, Hair, A View From the Bridge, Billy Elliot, Fences, Time Stands Still, Red, In The Heights,  The 39 Steps, Avenue Q, West Side Story, Come Fly Away, Lips Together Teeth Apart, Present Laughter, The Miracle Worker, Blue Man Group, Radio City Christmas Spectacular, Love Never Dies.  In no particular order.

3.    In one sentence, describe your job.

We create identities and sell tickets for live theatrical events.

4.    What skills are necessary for a person in your position?

Creativity, marketing, problem solving, humility, humor, and fast thinking.

5.    What kind of training did you go through to get to your position?

I owned my own design studio doing advertising and design for entertainment – film, cable, and the recording industry – for 12 years. Before that, I got a BFA in Graphic Design from the School of Visual Arts.

6.    What was your first job in theater?

I did the poster for The Destiny of Me, the sequel to The Normal Heart for Tom Viola and Roger McFarland.  It’s a portrait of my right hand.

7.    Why do you think theater is important?

It creates joy and outrage, both often when we need it most.

8.    What is your profession’s greatest challenge today?

Conservatism, and too many cooks.

9.    If you could change just one thing about the industry with the wave of a magic wand, what would it be?

That every challenge be met with humor and poise, rather than blame.  The team is always better when unified and caring.

10.    What advice would you give to someone who wanted to do what you do?

If you wanted to work in advertising for theater, there are several paths to take.  If you are a graphic designer, video editor, web designer, etc., we just look for a great portfolio that has vibrancy, a sense of humor as a person, and the ability to move fast.  A love of theater is not essential, and often times, I like that people bring a more diverse palette to our Broadway materials.  If you wanted to be an account person, a writer, etc., a passion for theater is a great help.  A sense of marketing, or marketing courses as a background are nice.  We have several people from the BMI workshop, and the producing program at Columbia.  We also have people who have worked at other more traditional ad agencies, and that knowledge can be a huge help, when combined with the joy (or the heartbreak) of theater.

Because Drew is the kind of guy that always goes a little further in everything he does, he also answered a bonus question.  When asked what kind of advice he would give to someone that wanted to be a Producer, he answered as follows:

Surround yourself with the best people, and be willing to understand that every friend you have will tell you your project is perfect.  You need to listen to real people, and if your advance is falling, people don’t like it as much as you think.  The opposite is also true- if your advance is climbing, no matter how slowly, people are genuinely loving your show and you should keep going.

Want to hear more expert advice from Drew but don’t have a show that he can advertise yet?  Listen to some of his American Theatre Wing panels here.

Podcast away!

I’m featured on the this week’s American Theatre Wing podcast, Downstage Center.

You can listen in here.
It’s a fun one.  You can hear me talk about “The Trekkies of Broadway” (I was one of them).
Special thanks to Howard Sherman for having me on the program.

How To “Sell Dreams” by four of Broadway’s best.

The American Theatre Wing is one of the most resourceful institutions that no one knows anything about.  Yeah, they created The Tony Award, but they didn’t stop there. They do a whole bunch of stuff including handling an industry-wide internship/networking program, supervising the Jonathan Larson Grants, and producing one of the greatest hidden treasures for people looking to pursue a career in the theater:  the Working In The Theatre video series.

There’s a Working In The Theatre discussion on just about everything, from theatrical design to cast albums.  There’s even one about Off-Broadway hidden deep in the vaults that includes a spirited conversation between me and some other Off-Bway folks.

But none of them compare to the most recent panel about . . . you guessed it . . . marketing.

ATW put four of the best pitch people on Broadway in the same room and grilled them on what it takes to sell a show.

Tune in to hear the esteemed John Barlow (John Barlow), Damian Bazadona (Situation Interactive), Nancy Coyne (Serino Coyne), and Drew Hodges (Spotco) talk about how they design a campaign, what they say to clients when they don’t like their shows, and yes, why marketing Broadway is like “selling dreams.”

Oh, and you’ll also hear one of my favorite new phrases, “It’s like buying a Big Mac in Berlin.”

Thanks ATW, and thanks to the four participants and their moderator, (Variety reporter Gordon Cox) for putting it all out there.

Click here to watch.

After you’re done, come back to the blog, and tell everyone what you agreed with . . . and what you didn’t.

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