A Tony for Stage Managers? No Thank You.

by David J. McGraw
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Tony Award icon, original art by RanZag via Wikimedia Commons
What do we reward/award in a stage manager?

Two disclaimers:

1.  James Corden’s Broadway Carpool Karaoke is the best advertisement I have ever seen for the Tony Awards.  It almost makes up for….

2.  It is a travesty that the American Theatre Wing removed the Tony Awards to for Best Sound Design of Plays and Musicals.  I appreciate that the award show is designed to be an infomercial for a few blocks of Midtown Manhattan and its subsequent tours, but cut Sound Design?  What could more easily transfer to a televised awards show in short snippets?  Join the Collaborator Party, whether you are in NYC or you want to attend a satellite party.

As much as I support sound designers getting back their Tony Awards and, more importantly, the public recognition for their art, I have never felt that my own profession is missing out with the Antoinette Perry awards.  First of all, how would you determine the winner each year?  What do you measure and how do you compare shows?  I would hate if the SM for most cue-heavy show was favored – calling cues is just a fraction of our jobs and often a show with fewer “bells & whistles” presents more challenges for the stage manager to maintain. Fun Fact: pre-headset stage managers used bells (and probably the occasional whistle) to signal actors and stagehands.  The same goes with cast size: yes, larger casts are much harder to organize, but I have had some 2-3 person shows that I found even more challenging.  Do we get bonus points for the number of understudies, standbys, and replacements?

And who would judge?  The weakest excuse for the removal of the Best Sound Design Tony was that it was too “technical” and the Tony voters wouldn’t be able to judge.  As flimsy an excuse as that is for Sound, I am not sure how non-SMs would evaluate stage managers.  To paraphrase the BASF slogan, we don’t make shows, we make the shows better.  So should the SM of the most smooth-running show win?  Or the show that was in development the longest?  You can judge a stage manager on the internal challenges that a show faced and how they solved them, but that would involve revealing some of the warts that we don’t want the buying public to see.  We know the shows that were beasts to bring to Opening (and then to keep running), but that is information is spoken under one’s breath over a coffee or a beer.

Moreover, how do you separate the work of the stage management team?  Should the PSM receive all the glory?  Yes, designers and directors benefit from their assistants, but the ASM is certainly not the assistant to the stage manager.  This should be a team award.

Besides, can you imagine our acceptance speeches?  Being true collaborators, we would need to thank EVERYONE, even more people than the directors and designers need to thank, so the cut-off music would start before we could get to something personal.

So no thank you.  I will rejoice when a stage manager gets a life-time achievement award like Peter Lawrence did in 2013, I will breathe a sigh of relief at the end of the musical numbers knowing that a stage manager is calling them on this one-day tour, and I will applaud the team managing both the live event and the broadcast.  But I look better in show blacks than a tuxedo.