THE TONY AWARDS AND THE CHANGES THEY MADE TO THEATRE (JPW)

An American Theatre Wing Tony Award

It is before the year 1947, and the producers of live theatre at the time are busy at work producing cutting edge, heart-wrenching theatre that attracts the masses and promotes the ingenuity of Konstantin Stanislavski’s methods to acting. The theatre is alive and well in America, but is not being revered like the film industry was. The cinema had the Academy Awards, but the live theatre did not have anything. This all changed when the American Theatre Wing decided to create an award for excellence in the Broadway Theatre – the Tony Award. These awards, still going today, gave theatre practitioners on Broadway something to work and compete for, revolutionizing the theatre as we know it.

The awards were named for American Theatre Wing co-founder, actress, producer, and director Antoinette Perry, nicknamed ‘Tony.’ At Warner Bros. story editor Jacob Wilk’s suggestion, the Wing proposed an award in Perry’s honor for distinguished stage acting and technical achievement after she died in 1946. At the award event, as the Brock Pemberton, head of the Theatre Wing handed out the award, he called it a Tony, and the name stuck. The ceremony was held in the Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York City. Originally, the prizes for the award included scrolls, cigarette lighters, and articles of jewelry. It was not until the third award ceremony that the Tony Medallion, the award we see given out today, was implemented with the award.

With the advent of the Tony Awards came a set of rules for achieving one, which changed the hierarchy of theatres in New York. A ‘Broadway’ theatre soon became defined as having 500 or more seats, rather than its geographical location relative to the street itself. As of the 2011 Broadway season, this consisted of 40 theatres located in the vicinity of Times Square. It also gave theatre practitioners a deadline in order to be eligible for award. This created the new Broadway season we know today. If a theatre company wanted to fight for a Tony, they had to get the ball rolling and have their show (typically) up and running before the end of April of that season year.

The introduction of the Tony Awards into the American theatre revolutionized the way practitioners were producing. Productions became grander, better funded, and more appreciated by audiences. The awards made Broadway what it is today – the Mecca of the theatre world. Any actor, director, or producer worth their salt wants to get on Broadway for a shot at that Tony Award. In short, the Tony Award changed the theatre of the twentieth century, because it gave American theatre artists something to strive for within our own communities.

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