(Michael Feingold’s article appeared in The Village Voice, 8/11/09.)
Theater Criticism Reconfigured
The Internet (unlike the Tonys) lets everyone have their say—to a point. What would Wilde think?
By the end of this paragraph, the producers of Burn the Floor will be sore at the Broadway League and the American Theatre Wing. When the news broke that these two organizations, which jointly manage Broadway's annual Tony Awards, had decided to remove the first-night theater press from the ranks of Tony voters, my first action was to e-mail my editor that I wouldn't be reviewing Burn the Floor, Broadway's new ballroom-dance compilation, an Australian import that has been trekking around the world for some years. As a Tony voter, I might have felt obliged to go: The nominations are so eccentric that you never know what may or may not end up on the ballot, and the ballot always specifies that you may not vote in a given category unless you've seen all the nominees. My new non-voter status has liberated me from events like Burn the Floor. Unluckily for its producers, my editor has no space outside my column for it either, so their show will get no Village Voice review. Let the League and the Wing deal with it.
Some of my colleagues on the press list are dismayed by the Tony administrators' decision; some are downright irate. For me, it's a blessed release. The League, the Broadway producers' association, works hard to make the public equate "Broadway" with "the theater," but the two were never identical, and in recent decades, the gap between them has steadily widened. Theater, sometimes very fine theater, does still occur in the large-scale venues that function on Broadway contracts and charge Broadway's staggering ticket prices, but not so often that theater critics need to spend the bulk of their time there. These days, most of what we call "Broadway," good or not, comes, like Burn the Floor, from elsewhere: London, Off-Broadway, resident theaters across the U.S. The era when "Broadway" meant a specific way of creating theater, with its own attitudes and its own approach, is long gone; its surviving practitioners are mostly older than myself. And I am not young, except at heart . . .
(Linda Winer's commentary appeared in Newsday, 7/25/09.)
Tony Awards committee gives media voters the hook
Should you care that theater journalists have been disinvited as voters for the Tony Awards? Does it matter – to anything except media egos – that 100 critics and related theater press were sent an e-mail July 14 that said thanks, but no thanks to 40 years of collaboration in commercial theater's most influential awards?
In truth, I've never been altogether comfortable about having a vote in what's basically an industry award. I mark my mail ballot every spring, of course, but never without a twinge from the momentary illusion of being at a party where I don't really belong.
I don't consider myself a part of the theater community. Rather, I'm a theater journalist who cares at least as much as that community about the quality of theatergoing. The press has lots of its own awards, not to mention reviews and columns in which many of us can speak our minds.
In other words, journalists don't need to be Tony voters.
The Tonys, however, need us. We keep them honest.
Broadway is a very small town with a tiny voting pool, perilously susceptible to pressures from voting blocs. Compared with the 5,000-plus national electorate for the Oscars, the Emmys and the Grammys, none of which includes journalists, the Tonys are a cottage industry.