Monday, June 16, 2008

How Do You Say “Desperation” with Jazz Hands?

By Russ Bickerstaff
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Prior to last night, I had never watched the Tony Awards before. Never. I always kind of figured that it was really none of my business. Surely, whatever an enormous crowd of theatre professionals from the east coast does in the privacy of a massive auditorium while being televised nationally by a major broadcast network is its own business. Last night I guess I felt like eavesdropping on the whole thing.

Much to my surprise, the Tony Awards were largely promotion. Yes, you get that with any awards program . . . most of them are set-up to let the rest of the world know their particular end of human endeavor even exists. The Bruce Chalmers Award, for instance, given out annually by the Minerals, Metals & Materials Society recognizes “An individual who has made outstanding contributions to the science and technology of solidification processing.” I have only the foggiest idea of what solidification processing is, but there’s little doubt that it’s important enough to a group of people to annually recognize outstanding achievements in it . . . which I might no have known about had I not, almost at random, entered “paper science awards” into a search engine in an attempt to make some sort of tenuous point about the nature of awards ceremonies.

I seem to be edging out of making some sort of coherent point here, but suffice it to say, it’s kind of strange to catch a whiff of desperation from Broadway, whether implied or inferred. The Tony Awards seemed almost unctuous in their eagerness to invite the country to Broadway . . . and though it is the big financial juggernaut of performing arts in this country, Broadway may have reason to be concerned. With increased gas prices, people aren’t going to be traveling as much . . . and Broadway makes A LOT of money n tourists. Visitors to New York spend something like $2.6 Billion annually . . . and that’s not even including tickets. I may not have the math right on this but if UPAF were able to get even 1/10 of that, it would effectively double the amount of money it could double or triple its annual payouts . . . which would mean more productions and probably more tourists. This brings up an interesting possibility: if all that money spent on New York gets more evenly distributed regionally across the country (and it won’t) it could mean a de-centralization of the money spent on theatre nationwide. That could end up meaning greater diversity in theatre nationwide. So much of what makes Broadway big—so much of what makes it such a big nationwide attraction is the amount of money that gets spent there. (The talent goes where the work is and there’s more work where there’s more money) It’s a pipe dream, but it’d be nice to see New York humbled by what the rest of the country that isn’t Broadway is capable of doing to draw audiences on a more level playing field. Maybe we’d be able to point to more than a few safe dramas and a revival of South Pacific as the pinnacle of theatre in the US in any given year.

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