Tony Awards Kill Sound Design Categories

Wednesday, The Tony Awards Administration Committee, which oversees the annual awards celebrating the best of Broadway Theater, voted to eliminate the awards for Best Sound Design of a Musical and of a Play.
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Wednesday, The Tony Awards Administration Committee, which oversees the annual awards celebrating the best of Broadway Theater, voted to eliminate the awards for Best Sound Design of a Musical and of a Play.

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No reason was given for the elimination of the awards, which were first given in the 2007-2008 theatrical season. The committee decided that in their place, a special sound design Tony may be awarded in the future if a production features particularly notable sound.

Underlining the Tony Awards’ eschewing of all things audio going forward, the Committee also named its 2014-2015 Tony Awards Nominating Committee on Wednesday. Filled with theater, production, lighting, projection, scenic, lighting and costume designers, among others, the 50-person nominating committee does not include any sound designers or members primarily working in audio-related roles.

The elimination of the Awards quickly spurred outcry online, as theater professionals around the globe expressed anger and frustration on social media, posting to the Tony Awards' Facebook wall and venting on Twitter. Adam Feldman, New York Drama Critics' Circle president and Time Out New York theater/cabaret critic, tweeted, “RIP Tony Awards for Best Sound Design, 2008-2014. Can they put that in next year’s ‘In Memoriam’ montage?” Meanwhile, Dillon Cody, assistant sound engineer on A Gentleman's Guide To Love And Murder—which won the 2014 Tony for Best Musical—tweeted, “What is @TheTonyAwards committee smoking….”

Pro audio entities tied to the theater world also made their voices heard. Stephanie Hansen, vice president and general manager of Masque Sound, a major vendor of audio equipment for Broadway productions, told Pro Sound News, “We hope the Tony Award Committee finds a way to continue to recognize the outstanding work Sound Designers provide the theatrical community, just like they do for scenery, costumes and lighting.” Meanwhile, online, Chris Ashworth, founder of Figure 53, which produces QLab live show control software, tweeted a straightforward “Hey #TonyAwards, this is not cool," and both Sound Associates, Inc., another theatrical audio vendor, and the United States Institute for Theatre Technology, the national association for performing arts and entertainment technology professionals, tweeted links to an online petition demanding the reinstatement of the Sound Design award. Started by sound designer John Gromada, who was nominated for a Best Sound Design of a Play Tony Award in 2013 for The Trip to Bountiful, the petition garnered more than 10,000 signatures in less than 24 hours.

The move to eliminate the sound design awards was the latest in a string of critically derided decisions made by the Tony Awards this week. The 2014 Tony Awards Ceremony, broadcast Sunday on CBS from Radio City Music Hall, saw the telecast feature musical numbers from two productions that have not been staged yet—including one that does not currently have official Broadway plans and which was performed by Oscar-winner Jennifer Hudson, who is not attached to the current "out-of-town" production. In addition to providing airtime to the nascent efforts instead of currently staged shows, the move sparked critics to suggest the high-profile “previews” could give those productions an unfair advantage come nomination time next year (if they make it to Broadway).

Additionally, the telecast dropped its traditional “In Memoriam” montage, which would have highlighted members of the Broadway community who died between May 2013 and May 2014. Originally included in rehearsals of the ceremony, the montage was instead posted to the Tony Awards’ website, where the comment section was soon overrun with remarks decrying the omission from the Ceremony.

As it stands, ratings for the annual telecast were down, falling to 7.02 million from 7.24 million in 2013; while it was the second-largest Tony audience in the last five years, the award’s viewership was less than half that of its main television opponent—the second game of the NBA Finals, airing at the same time, which garnered 15 million viewers.

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[UPDATED 6/12/14, 2:26PM to include comment from Masque Sound]