Off Broadway Companies to Get a Shot at Tony Awards Glory

Tony Awards Opening Act - P 2013
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Tony Awards Opening Act - P 2013

Marking a major shift in policy, New York stages will now be eligible for the Regional Theatre Award, starting in 2014.

NEW YORK -- In a move that stands to have a significant impact on non-profit organizations in the Off Broadway network, the Tony Awards administration announced Thursday that eligibility for its Regional Theatre Award will now extend to include New York companies.

The Regional Theatre Award has traditionally been the sole Tony honor not restricted to Broadway productions, providing a means to recognize the work of some of the most adventurous theater companies across the country.

However, theater insiders have long bemoaned the exclusion of Off Broadway from the Tonys, particularly since so many recent winners originated there. (The chief distinction between the two designations is that qualifying Broadway theaters have a minimum of 500 seats, whereas Off Broadway theaters are smaller.)

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Over the past ten years, four best musical winners, including Once, In the Heights, Spring Awakening and Avenue Q, all played Off Broadway before being transferred to Broadway houses by commercial producers. The same goes for many other nominees for the top Tony award, including The Scottsboro Boys, Grey Gardens, Passing Strange, Fela!, Rock of Ages, Caroline, Or Change and The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.

Leading Off Broadway companies whose productions have springboarded to Broadway success include Playwrights Horizons, The Public Theater, New York Theatre Workshop, Atlantic Theatre Company, Vineyard Theatre, Second Stage Theatre and Classic Stage Company.

The city's three major non-profit theater companies that operate in both Broadway and Off Broadway models, Lincoln Center Theater, Manhattan Theatre Club and Roundabout Theatre Company will remain eligible only for their Broadway work. Many Tony-winning productions, including Doubt and this year's best play winner, Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, were seen pre-Broadway on those companies' smaller stages.

The 2013 Tony Regional Theatre winner was Huntington Theatre Company in Boston. Other organizations that have been honored with the award include the Shakespeare Theatre Co. of Washington, D.C.; Lookingglass Theatre Company of Chicago; Signature Theatre, Arlington, Virginia; and Eugene O'Neill Theatre Company, Waterford, Conn.

The change of rules for the Regional Theatre Award applies immediately, meaning that Off Broadway companies will be in the mix for next year's Tonys. Expect to hear some loud grumbling from the country's regional theater network if that coveted honor starts going on a regular basis to a New York institution.

The new ruling does not mean that individual Off Broadway productions, or their cast members or creative teams, will become Tony-eligible, unless they transfer to Broadway.