Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Did Tony officials commit a mortal sin?

Tony officials (the Broadway League and the American Theater Wing) announced via e-mail this week that they were stripping the voting rights of journalists because they feel it creates a conflict of interest. Well, it goes without saying that the journalists are absolutely shocked and many are just plain pissed off.

The New York Post reports that WOR radio's David Richardson, a man of sound and measured judgment, said: "This is the most absurd decision ever made since my 15 years in the theater. They can take this decision and shove it up their a--!"

In taking this direction, not only have the Tony officials shot themselves in the foot, but they've simultaneously bit the hand that feeds them. After all, it is the journalist that feeds information to the public about the shows- whether in reviews, or through public relations.

Again, a quote from Richardson in the New York Post: "The only objective people who vote are the [journalists]! Take them away and all you have voting are the curtain-pullers in Wichita, Kansas, who never see half the shows! And don't tell me they do! This is a piece of s--t!" The press tends to votes it's taste, while producers, theater owners and presenters of touring productions vote for shows in which they a vested financial interest.

Did I remember to mention that the press is a little hot under the collar about this? Well, they're poised to push back.

According to Michael Riedel, here are a few things the press can do to take a stand:
* Ignore the whole idea of a first night press performance.

Shows preview for weeks and weeks but still charge full price. Why should critics be told which performances they can attend? Give a show two weeks (if it's not ready by then, it never will be), buy a ticket, file your review and listen to the producers squeal.

* Ignore the crass commercial shows.

There's no reason why thoughtful critics should bother with kiddie twaddle like "Shrek" or "Legally Blonde." Leave those things to correspondents from Highlights magazine and Buzznet.

* Ignore the Broadway League and the American Theater Wing, the two ... organizations that control the Tonys.

The League specializes in "marketing" meetings, while the Wing's main activities appear to be pimping itself out to Visa (its biggest sponsor) and producing "The American Theater Wing Seminar," the most unwatchable television program in the history of telecommunications.

But both organizations always send out press releases asking for "coverage" of this or that "initiative" or "event."

The next time you get one, quote the great Times theater columnist Alex Witchel and bark: "Take out an ad!"

* Beef up the Drama Critics Circle Awards.

Let the Tonys put on their ... Broadway celebration, with its lame production numbers from tired old touring shows.

The critics should find a sponsor, get themselves on cable and put on a show that honors artists as opposed to clumps of producers.

The theater press should stop whining about being "marginalized" by the Tonys.

It still has platforms, it still has power.

It can put its boot on Broadway's neck and break it.
With the current state of the economy, I'm not sure if it's such a good idea to turn a blind eye to the very source that keeps shouting out: "Hey everyone, Broadway is still going strong. Go see a show!" Without the press, all you've got is a show and some huge posters in Times Square that people grow to hate. You could have the greatest show ever produced an a Broadway stage, but people would never know it weren't for journalists.

What are your thoughts? Did Tony officials commit a mortal sin?

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