Adam Feldman gets some unwanted news in his mailbox:
The ax fell quietly, by e-mail, at a little before 6pm today. “After careful consideration,” begins the letter from Tony Award Productions, “the Tony Awards Management Committee has determined that Tony-voting privileges will no longer be extended to members of the First Night Press List, commencing with the 2009–2010 season.” In other words: Critics are hereby purged from the Tony voting rolls. No official reasons for this decision are given, but the letter goes on to note that critics already get to have their say during the year, and 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.”
This strikes us as a disappointing decision. Critics have long been part of the Tony voting pool, alongside industry insiders from the American Theatre Wing, Actors’ Equity Association, the Dramatists Guild, the Society of Stage Directors and Choreographers, United Scenic Artists and other groups. The rationale for the new exclusion—a vague allusion to conflicts of interest, the precise nature of which are hard to imagine—is thin stuff indeed. If anything, critics are among the voters least compromised by conflicts of interest, and most likely to vote objectively and fairly for the work they judge to be best. (The others are liable to have greater personal, professional and financial stakes in the outcome.) The excision of this voting block represents a step backward in the seriousness of the awards.
I am of two minds of this... My first mind totally understands what Adam's saying here and agrees that this is disappointing... but my other mind feels profoundly "meh" about this. I don't watch-- or care about-- the TONYs. There's all sorts of things wrong with them and this is just another thing on the list.
Top of that list is of course the participation of road producers in the voting pool, which perverts the process by weighting it towards shows that are likely to make money on tour.
Second on that list is that they are televised, which leads to all sorts of bullshit like the recent bringing-shows-back-that-got-no-awards-but-are-touring-to-do-musical-numbers-while-cutting-presentations-of-actual-you-know-awards-from-the-broadcast. These decisions lead to small bumps in the ratings of what is generally a fairly low-rated, extremely expensive, smug and boring variety show.
Third is how expensive they are for the shows that participate in them. Every musical number you see in the Tonys has to have its set rebuilt for the awards show. If memory serves, it costs musicals roughly a million dollars each to participate in the awards, and the box office boost for the shows that don't win is typically slim-to-none.
So I guess added to that list, the critics thing doesn't bother me too much. The National Book Awards only seldomly have critics on their judging panel. Critics don't vote for the Oscars either. There's typically a critic on the Pulitzer committee if I remember correctly, at least for drama.
If anything, the choice to bar critics for voting on thinly-constructed and not-particularly-convincing grounds strikes me as just another sign that the awards have very little to do with recognizing excellence in theatre, and everything to do with selling ad space on CBS and tickets to road shows. Are we really surprised by that?