Spotlight on Theatre Awards Season

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For over a century, theatre awards have been a crucial part of the performing arts industry, recognizing the best and brightest in the world of theatre. From the glitz and glamour of the Tony Awards to the lesser known but equally important Del Hughes Lifetime Achievement Award for Excellence in the Art of Stage Management, each award celebrates the talent, hard work, and dedication of those involved in creating live theatre. In this article, The Scene takes a closer look at some of Broadway’s most prestigious theatre awards.

The Tony Awards

The Tony Awards are a prestigious annual event that was established by the American Theatre Wing in 1947, in honor of Antoinette Perry, an actress, director, and producer who co-founded the organization. These awards recognize outstanding achievement in Broadway productions, with 26 competitive categories and special awards such as the Regional Theater Award and the Isabelle Stevenson Award for humanitarian efforts. The nominees are selected by a rotating group of up to 50 theater professionals, while the voters include more than 800 theater professionals, press agents, and a handful of critics. The Tony Awards are broadcast on network television, making them the most prominent awards ceremony in the industry since 1956.

Tony nominations will be announced on Tuesday, May 2, 2023.

The Pulitzer Prizes

The Pulitzer Prizes were established in 1917 at Columbia University and included an annual award for a new work by an American playwright that premiered either in New York or regionally within the previous calendar year. While most of the Pulitzer awards are given for works of journalism, this national award for drama is highly coveted by American dramatists, even though it’s rare for the award to go to a show that hasn’t had a run in New York City. The winner and finalist are recommended by a different annual group of four theater critics and a theater academic but can be overridden by the Pulitzer Board. However, the selection process has been called into question over the years. In 1963, the board rejected the jury’s choice of Edward Albee’s “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” and gave no award in drama that year. Similarly, in 2010, the board rejected all three of the jury’s recommendations and chose the winner on its own. Notably, many of the greatest American plays and musicals were not awarded a Pulitzer Prize, including “The Glass Menagerie,” “A Raisin in the Sun,” “The Crucible,” “Oklahoma,” “Gypsy,” “West Side Story,” and “Sweeney Todd.” Despite this spotty track record and questionable selection process, the Pulitzer Prize in Drama is widely accepted as the second most prestigious award for American dramatists.

Pulitzer Prize winners and finalists will be announced on May 8, 2023.

The Drama Desk Awards

The Drama Desk Awards, founded in 1949, is an annual event that presents awards to outstanding performances on Broadway, Off-Broadway, and Off-Off-Broadway shows. The members of the Drama Desk Awards are primarily theater critics and journalists, making it the only New York awards given by them. In 2023, for the first time, the acting categories at The Drama Desk Awards will be “gender-free,” following the footsteps of the Outer Critics Circle awards. Instead of the traditional categories of “Outstanding Leading Actor in a Play” and “Outstanding Lead Actress in a Play,” there will be two “Outstanding Leading Performer in a Play.” This change, however, was made without consultation with the members, causing some to express concerns about women getting short-changed. One of the advantages of The Drama Desk Awards is that it recognizes Broadway, Off-Broadway, and Off-Off-Broadway shows in the same competitive categories, thus giving lesser-known nominees the attention, they deserve. However, the awards are often dominated by the more popular (Broadway) competitors. In 2022, only one of the eight categories went to an Off-Broadway performer. The exception to this trend was in 2015 when “Hamilton” received 13 nominations, more than any other show, including those on Broadway, and won the Outstanding Musical award plus six others, upending the usual results.

Learn more about this year’s Drama Desk Award Nominees.

The Outer Critics Circle Awards

The Outer Critics Circle Awards was founded in 1950 as an alternative to the New York Drama Critics Circle and is comprised of theater critics and journalists from national, out-of-town, and online publications. The awards honor both Broadway and Off-Broadway performances, and this year marks significant changes in the acting categories. Rather than differentiating by gender, there will be separate categories for Outstanding Lead Performer in a Broadway Play and Outstanding Lead Performer in an Off-Broadway Play. However, the decision was made by the 11-member Executive Committee without consulting the 70-plus members, reflecting the organization’s top-down approach. The Executive Committee members choose each other, and only they serve on the Nominating Committee without rotation. While the other members may offer nominations, the awards ceremony is only open to members and winners and is known for being a low-key affair.

Learn more about this year’s Outer Critics Circle Award Nominees.

The New York Drama Critics Circle Awards

The New York Drama Critics Circle is a group of twenty-two critics, originally representing major New York publications, established in 1935 as an alternative to the Pulitzer Prize. Annually, they gather on a single day to determine and reveal the best play, foreign play, best musical of the season, and a couple of special citations from any New York theater, including Off-Broadway shows. The awards process is notably transparent, with a publication of who voted for what in each round of voting. However, the organization has had to modify its criteria for major critics and publications due to member job losses, position eliminations, and publications’ closures.

A date for this year’s New York Drama Critics Circle Award has yet to be announced.

The Theatre World Awards

Since 1945, the Theatre World Awards has been recognizing 12 performers (6 men, 6 women) every year who make their debut on the New York stage. This award is regarded as one of the most beautiful and meaningful honors in the industry, with notable past recipients reflecting on its significance and introducing the newest honorees with whom they share a special bond. In addition to the 12 performers, a veteran performer is also selected annually for the John Willis Award for Lifetime Achievement.

The 75th Annual Theatre World Awards will be announced on June 5, 2023.

The Lucille Lortel Awards

Established in 1985 by the Off-Broadway League, the Lucille Lortel Awards are dedicated to honoring outstanding achievements in Off-Broadway productions. Named after the celebrated actor, the awards place a special emphasis on recognizing excellence in theater outside of Broadway. Each year, a new playwright is selected to receive a star in the Playwrights Sidewalk in front of the Lucille Lortel Theater in the Village. The nominees and winners of the Lortel Awards are determined by a committee comprising representatives of the Off-Broadway League, Actors’ Equity Association, Stage Directors & Choreographers Society, United Scenic Artists, the Lucille Lortel Theatre Foundation, as well as theater journalists, academics, and other professionals associated with Off-Broadway.

Learn more about this year’s Lucille Lortel Award Nominees.

The Obie Awards

The Obie Awards have been annually recognizing exceptional Off-Broadway and Off-Off Broadway shows and individuals since 1955. Originally founded by the cultural editor of the Village Voice, the awards are now overseen by the American Theatre Wing after the Voice’s closure. Unlike other awards shows, there are no nominees for Obies, only winners, and the judges strive to reward artistic merit without promoting competition. They may even create new categories to honor outstanding artists and productions. The most recent ceremony, which marked the 66th annual awards, was held in February to celebrate the work of the previous three seasons. However, there is currently no information available on when the next ceremony will be held.

A date for this year’s Obie Award has yet to be announced.

The Drama League Awards

The Drama League Awards, considered as “the oldest theatrical honors in America,” have been selecting five winners in five competitive categories annually and giving out special awards. Recently, they have added two new competitive categories, namely outstanding direction of a play and of a musical. While the Drama League’s claim of origin has been disputed due to the ambiguity of its date of establishment, it gained recognition for acknowledging digital theater during the pandemic when other award-giving bodies did not. Despite this, the Drama League Awards typically receive less attention than other major awards. With a single performing category, “distinguished performance,” and around 60 nominees but only one winner, the categories are overcrowded, and anyone can vote, regardless of expertise or experience, by purchasing a membership.

The 89th annual Drama League Awards ceremony and announcement will take place on May 19, 2023.

The Off Broadway Alliance Awards

Established by the Off Broadway Alliance in 2011, the Off Broadway Alliance Awards recognize outstanding performances in Off Broadway productions. Although the Off Broadway League, which oversees the Lucille Lortel Awards, exists alongside the Alliance, it is unclear how the two organizations differ. The Alliance, being a newer entity, operates with a less transparent award process, employing a rotating committee of unnamed members from the Alliance.

A date for this year’s Off Broadway Alliance Awards has yet to be announced.

The Chita Rivera Awards

The NYC Dance Alliance Foundation presents the Chita Rivera Awards, recognizing exceptional dance and choreography in Broadway, Off-Broadway, and film. The awards were established in 1982 as the Fred Astaire Awards, later renamed the Fred and Adele Astaire Awards, and eventually renamed again to pay tribute to the accomplished Tony-winning performer, Chita Rivera, seven years ago.

Learn more about this year’s Chita Rivera Award Nominees.

The Del Hughes Lifetime Achievement Award for Excellence in the Art of Stage Management

The Del Hughes Lifetime Achievement Award for Excellence in the Art of Stage Management is a prestigious honor given to individuals who have made significant contributions to the field of stage management over their career. Named after Del Hughes, a renowned stage manager who worked on numerous Broadway productions, the award is presented annually by the Stage Managers’ Association to recognize the outstanding achievements of those who have demonstrated exceptional talent, dedication, and innovation in stage management. Recipients of the award have included some of the most accomplished and respected stage managers in the industry, who have left an indelible mark on the theatrical landscape through their skillful management of complex productions and their invaluable contributions to the art form.

The winner of the 2023 Del Hughes Award has yet to be announced.

Although this list includes many of the major theatre awards given annually, it is important to note that numerous other prestigious theatre awards are also presented throughout the country to recognize exceptional theatre artists. Some notable regional theatre awards include The Arizona Theatre Awards of Excellence, The Barrymore Awards for Excellence in Theater, The Big Easy Awards for Excellence in Music, Theater and Classical Arts, The Elliot Norton Awards, The Helen Hayes Award, The Henry Awards, The Joseph Jefferson Awards, The Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Award, The NAACP Theatre Awards, The Ovation Awards, and The Suzi Bass Awards.

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