Tony Awards Committee Mutes Sound Honors

Photo Joan Marcus
Sound design Tony-winner "Beautiful: The Carole King Musical"

UPDATED: Since news surfaced on Wednesday that the sound-design awards are history, 10,000 protesters have signed an online petition calling for the decision to be reversed.

NEW YORK -- Tony Award winners Steve Canyon Kennedy and Brian Ronan, who picked up trophies Sunday night for sound design of a play (Lady Day at Emerson's Bar & Grill) and musical (Beautiful: The Carole King Musical), respectively, must be feeling fortunate, as their categories just got nixed from the awards lineup.

At a meeting of the Tony Awards Administration Committee on Wednesday, a vote was passed to eliminate both sound design of a play and sound design of a musical from the competitive award categories starting with the 2014-15 season. While no explanation for the decision was given, the committee did specify that special awards may be presented to productions judged to have extraordinary achievements in sound design.

A relatively recent addition to the Tonys roster, sound-design awards were introduced in 2008 and have been presented just six times. Ronan is the category's sole repeat winner, having taken the prize in 2011 for The Book of Mormon.

Within hours of the announcement that sound honors were being eliminated, an online protest at The Petition Site started by veteran Broadway sound designer and composer John Gromada had already gathered 4,000 signatures calling for the awards to be reinstated. That number has since grown to more than 10,000.

"Sound design is a theatrical design art that is a critical part of the collaborative art of theatre," reads the protest statement. "The American Theatre Wing should continue to honor excellence in sound design as it does for scenery, costumes and lighting design, and as it has done since 2008. Sound designers are an important part of the theatrical community whose vital contributions cannot be ignored or dismissed. Reverse this decision now!"

When contacted by The Hollywood Reporter, the Tony Awards administration had no comment in response to the petition.

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The removal of the two sound awards cuts the number of competitive Tony categories to 24.

On a less controversial note, the committee also ruled that playwrights, librettists and composers of works not previously presented on Broadway but deemed eligible in the revival categories -- which includes Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Violet and The Cripple of Inishmaan from this season's crop -- will be recognized along with producers in the awards for best revival of a play and musical. That applies only to shows from the popular repertoire, not to classics.

Had that ruling been in place before Sunday, it would have allowed Hedwig writer John Cameron Mitchell and composer-lyricist Stephen Trask to receive Tonys for the musical revival winner, along with the producing team led by David Binder.

The committee also voted to relax the restrictions regarding swag that can be sent to the 50 Tony nominators and 800 voters. Rules in place since the 2005-06 season have limited mail-outs to scripts, souvenir booklets, CDs and unedited review packages. However, those rules are to be suspended for a year to allow for additional campaign material, putting the onus on producers to act responsibly.

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Despite widespread dissatisfaction within the theater industry about the nominating process, which is arrived at via anonymous ballots and precludes any discussion among the committee, no evidence emerged from today's meeting to suggest that it will be changed. 

Theater insiders were particularly indignant this year that while the Tony rules allowed for up to five nominations in the best musical race, only four shows made the shortlist. That left a number of deserving contenders out in the cold, notably The Bridges of Madison County, which picked up two Tonys for best original score and orchestrations but was not in the running for the top prize.

In other Tony administration news, the 50-member nominating committee for the 2014-15 season has been announced. While the majority are holdovers from the season that just concluded, new recruits include two key arts and entertainment industry executives from former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg's administration, Kate Levin and Katherine Oliver.

The Tony Awards honor the best of the Broadway season and are jointly presented by the Broadway League and the American Theatre Wing.