For a little over a month, we here at The All Things Broadway Blog have been preparing you for the single biggest night in theatre, and now it’s just about time to wrap up Broadway’s Award Season and look into the future. However, I’m sure just like you, it will take a while for us to debrief from all this madness, and there will still be plenty to discuss, but for now the time for preparation has come to an end. If you’ve not finished planning your tony parties yet, or made your predictions on who the winners will be, or if you still don’t even know what the heck I’m talking about, then you are almost out of time because this Sunday June, 10th at 8/7 Central, only on CBS, it’s finally time for the moment we’ve all been waiting for...The 72nd Annual Tony Awards!
The History of Broadway And The Musicals That Call It Home- The Tony Awards Special!
Have you ever wondered how award shows came into being? Or where the awards came from? I mean, who even designed the physical Tony Award? All good questions and well, I’m sure there’s a book somewhere that will tell you all that because that’s way too much for me to research. I’m kidding of course, it was legendary Art Director Herman Rosse. However, there is one question I really do want to get to the bottom of today and that is, why the Tony Awards? I mean have you ever thought about why our award shows are named what they are, I mean sure there named after people, but who? Who was the original Oscar, is he the guy the statuette was based off of? What about the Pulitzer Prize, I mean, why do we have an award based off a guy who swindled a bunch of kids just trying to sell papes? I mean, who even is this “Tony”? Well, every name has a story as you may know, and the story of the Tony Awards goes way back to 1917 in where else, but New York City.
In 1917 right before America would enter World War I, the country was feeling patriotic and everyone was doing their effort in the war, including Rachel Crothers who decided to create the Stage Women’s War Relief. She and several other theatre women made uniforms, collected food and clothing, and sold Liberty Bonds, but of course being actresses and playwrights, they also raised money the best way they knew how to - through performing. They built a makeshift Liberty Theatre outside of the New York Public Library, and in total, the group ended up raising a ton of money for the war effort, and you might not know Crothers today or her small organization, but you might know it by its updated name.
The Birth Of The American Theatre Wing
The Stage Women’s War Relief was abandoned after the end of World War I, but as you all may now, it wasn’t very many years after the first war that we discovered just that. It was only the first, and once again at the beginning of World War II, Crothers was ready to get back to work and re-established the organization as a branch of the British war relief. However, when America decided it was time to enter the war, Crothers renamed the organization to something you might know a little better today- The American Theatre Wing - which focused on the American war effort and got straight to work, getting back to its New York roots and opening the stage door canteen to entertain servicemen in America. They raised money, boosted ally spirits, and once again did what they did best, put on shows. However, after the War ended suddenly, the Wing had once again lost purpose. But unlike after World War I, it didn’t disband and instead kept going stronger than ever, and though the war was over they still assisted veterans on their way home and helped in the effort to move on from the war. They then started to establish themselves and help grow the expanding world of theatre and in 1946, The American Theatre Wing was about to make one of its biggest contributions to theatre history yet, after the call for an award banquet for New York's distinguished actors was made. The award would be given to those working on Broadway, The Tony Award, named after who it was dedicated to.
Antoinette Perry And The Tony Awards
Why the Oscars? Why the Oliviers, why do we name awards after people, and who even are the people we name them after and in this case, who is Antoinette Perry? She is, as you may be able to guess, the namesake of the Tony Awards but, who is she? We haven’t discussed her yet and odds are the name isn’t ringing a bell. Well, she is an integral part of not only the story I just told you but also of theatre history. You see, as I said, Crothers established the organization, but when she brought it back after World War I as the all new, American Theatre Wing she didn’t do alone and I purposefully left out one of her key new members, the co-founder Antoinette Perry.
Perry is known as an actress, producer, and director, but most of all for her role in the wing in World War II. She created scholarship opportunities, funded works of new plays, and supported the theatre in every way possible. To give you an idea of who Perry was, when she died in 1946, she was $300,000 in debt, and that was purely because Perry gave everything she had to theatre. Her daughter described her as a bit of a gambler but that all her winnings went straight to providing for the theatre wing. Once a reporter asked her, “Why do you give so much time and money to such thankless activities?” to which Perry replied, “Thankless? They’re anything but that, I’m just a fool for theatre.” Perry was anything but a fool, though. It was clear to her friends and coworkers that she had a passion for theatre like no other, and that’s exactly why when she did die in 1946 from a heart attack, it was no question to Brock Pemberton, head of the Wing at the time, that the new award would be named “The Antoinette Perry Award For Excellence In Theatre”, or as it would catch on, The Tony Awards.
So, if you get anything from the article get this, winning the Tony Awards isn’t the huge deal we make it out to be because it’s exclusively for Broadway, or it’s so hard and exceptional, but because it’s something reserved for only the most passionate and exceptional individuals: those who represent what Antoinette Perry stood for and would gladly give their life for theatre. So, if any of you reading this ever do win a Tony, maybe skip the note cards, and skip drawn out speeches and simply say, “I’m just a fool for theatre,” because it means so much more than the audience may ever know and if you do end up thank anyone, thank Antoinette Perry, the war supporter, theatre legend, and woman who lived her life to help grow this wonderful artform into what we know today.
And ever since that first Awards Banquet in 1947 where no medallions were even given out just jewelry and other valuable accessories we have had 71 ceremonies since. With changes to awards, changes to locations, and changes to theatre in general, the Tony Awards are now able to be seen by everyone since they've been broadcast on CBS since 1967, and its brought everyone a little closer into the world of theatre we know and love and given everyone the chance to get involved in the event. As we approach the 72nd show, it’s nice to look back onto humble beginnings in times of war and at those often unheard who paved the way for not only The Tony’s today, but theatre in general, and as well to look forward to the future as The Tony Awards is looking into the digital age and may soon find another home outside of just television, but also Broadway and the bright future of this ever growing artform.
So that’s the history of the Tony Awards! Do you enjoy this history stuff? I mean love it, but I want to see what you think, do you want more of this or should I write about other things tell me in the comments below and as always, make sure to be there or be square, unless you’re Ethan Slater who has to be there AND be square. Make sure to tune into The Tony Awards on CBS at 8/7 Central this Sunday! Wait, though I know what you’re already saying what about all of us not in America, worry not friends overseas because I got your back. I’d like to refer you to https://www.tonyawards.com/en_US/tonynight/international_viewing.html which tells you everything you need to know about overseas watching. But for those of us in America, tune into CBS, jump on the couch, pop some popcorn, and get ready to either hate or love the American Theatre Wing, you know, the ones who decided The Producers was absolutely worth a record number of Tonys and they are totally right, but also that Big Fish couldn’t even get a nomination. What?!? Sorry, Darren already covered that one, still mad about it though. I love Big Fish if you can’t tell. I mean would it have won, no probably not. But not even a nomination? I mean Nice Work If You Can Get It got a nomination for Best Musical in 2012 and that’s just a jukebox musical featuring an already done Gershwin plot and the absolute worst of Matthew Broderick practically being carried by Kelli O’ Hara, but Big Fish featuring my favorite boy, Norbert Leo Butz, can’t even get a nomination for Best Musical, and speaking about 2012, don’t even get me started on Newsies losing to Once, because we will be here all day.
Well that’s it for me, thankfully. I’ve been Taylor and I can't wait to watch the Tony Awards with all of you guys. So, thanks for reading. I encourage you if you’re just finding the blog to go back and read the other entries the team has made over the past month and make sure to keep up to date, as we all have much more to talk about and of course, if I haven’t said it enough, make sure to tune into The 72nd Annual Tony Awards Live on CBS at 8/7 Central! Thanks once again and have a great Thursday everyone.