The Forgotten Group: The Ensemble Deserves a Tony

Savannah Karabus

A musical is a musical, and a play is a play, no matter how big or small the ensemble is or whether there is one at all. But it would be ignorant of me if I didn’t acknowledge the huge role they play in a musical or a play. Of course, there is no denying how integral it is to have solid leads, but how can we, as the audience, become so deeply involved and enthralled by a piece of work if there is no background harmonizing and dancing, no elaborate numbers with large amounts of actors. It is near impossible to connect in the way we want to.

Here in South Africa, our theatre awards - The Naledi’s and The Fleur de Caps - both nominate the best ensembles of the season so that may make me a little biased, but I still believe that there is room to at least honour the top ensembles at the Tony Awards.

When I started writing this blog, I began thinking about my favourite shows, not just of the season but ever. Frozen has an incredible ensemble that only enhances the talent of the leads on stage, as does Wicked, the Sound of Music, Singin’ in the Rain. The list of shows that would be completely different without their ensembles is endless. But the recognition they receive is minimal, if they are even recognized at all. Currently the only awards that recognize the ensemble of a Broadway show are the Chita Riviera Awards for Dance and for Choreography. The only other sort of recognition an ensemble member receives is the gypsy robe on the official opening night of a show, for being the chorus member who has been in the chorus/ensemble of the most amount of shows, but yet again this is only focusing on a single member and not the amount of effort of the group on a whole.

Photo by master1305/iStock / Getty Images
Photo by master1305/iStock / Getty Images

There has been talk that through the works of actors and actresses who believe that everyone on stage deserves to be recognized for the hard work they do to ensure the show, no matter what, is memorable and spectacular for everyone watching, that the Broadway League and American Theatre Wing and going to consider making this an actual category for next seasons awards as well as Best Chorus. This is exciting news and major progress…if it comes true! 

As someone who has loved theatre for pretty much her entire life, for one reason or another, my eyes have always been drawn to what is going on in the background; what the ensemble are doing and how they are improving the overall quality of the production. Of course this doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate all the hard work and sacrifices the leading actors and actresses make to create a mind blowing experience for us as the audience. 

I truly do look forward to the day where we will hear “and the award for best ensemble in a musical/play goes to…”. We may have a long way to go but there is an element of hope!

What are your thoughts?