Dramatists Guild Statement about 2018 Tony Awards
VIA FIRST CLASS POST
Mr. Leslie Moonves President and Chief Executive Officer
51 W. 52nd Street
New York, NY 10019-6188
Dear Mr. Moonves,
Congratulations on the 2018 Tony Awards Telecast. As president of the Dramatists Guild, I applaud CBS for continuing to champion live theater on national television.
That said, we remain dismayed that the awards continue to marginalize the roles of playwrights, composers, and lyricists in forging the American theater. This is especially ironic because without dramatists, there would be no theater to celebrate. Before there can be a festive opening night, rave reviews, skyrocketing receipts, and nationally televised awards shows, a few brave writers must tackle the lonely task of scribing words in an effort to tell the stories that fill their hearts and minds. When they do so, they create thousands of jobs for their fellow professionals in the field, enrich the cultural life of the nation, and pump millions upon millions of dollars into our economy.
A list of great theater writers includes some of the most enduring names in popular culture: George and Ira Gershwin, Irving Berlin, Arthur Miller, Lillian Hellman, August Wilson, and Stephen Sondheim. Exciting new writers are joining their ranks every season on Broadway. But, by failing to grant them visibility, CBS is erasing them from the historical record. This is a shame not only for the telecast, but also for our national musical and literary heritage.
We understand that your mission is two-fold: to honor our art form, but also to create entertaining television. Nevertheless, the omission of writers is patently arbitrary. Surely the names of many Broadway actors, directors, and producers are no more familiar to the average viewer than those of our members.
This year, by excluding authors, the telecast arguably shot itself in the foot. Many of the songwriters of the year’s hit musicals are already bold-faced names, beloved all across the country. Aerosmith, Cyndi Lauper, David Bowie, Lady Antebellum, John Legend, and cohost Sara Bareilles are just some of the composers responsible for SpongeBob SquarePants. The songwriters for Disney’s adaptation of Frozen, Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez, won an Oscar for the chart-topping anthem “Let It Go.” This year’s Tony winner, David Yazbek, is a three-time Tony nominee. Audiences would find this information educative and dramatically engaging; these figures are titans on Broadway and elsewhere. Shockingly, on the broadcast, their honors were supplanted by commercials.
Plays fared no better than musicals. In fact, the playwrights may have suffered even more. At least scenes from the musicals and the Tony for Best Book were presented on air, but this year there was no attempt to present the plays on the broadcast in any manner whatsoever. Last year, the playwrights were given a moment to describe their plays. Regarding the award itself, the Tony for Best Play is supposed to be awarded to both the producer and the author, yet in the broadcast, the nominated authors were not even mentioned (Ayad Akhtar, Lucy Kirkwood, John Leguizamo and Claire van Kampen). Adding further insult to injury, when Harry Potter and the Cursed Child won the trophy, the two producers used up all the allotted time without allowing the playwright to speak. Regrettably, CBS drowned out playwright Jack Thorne with incidental music, favoring time strictures over meaningful content and basic fairness.
Every year, the Academy Awards faithfully includes screenwriters in not one but two categories. And it’s not just the Oscars; the Grammys, Emmys, and Golden Globes all award the writers in their respective industries on the air. And yet it’s the theater that most esteems writers; we are generally recognized as the principal artistic force behind new work, and we even retain ownership and control over the material we create. Yet on the very awards show intended to celebrate our craft, we are effectively negated.
Please note, Mr. Moonves, that Dramatists Guild presidents past and present have been forced to write some version of this letter almost annually. The ongoing failure by CBS and the Tony committee to act on this matter has been noticed by dramatists everywhere; the day following the Awards, my in-box was filled with notes from understandably irked theater writers, and social media was alive and crackling with indignation. It is worth noting that these same dramatists own the words and music that are performed on the broadcast.
The Dramatists Guild strongly urges you to reconsider this policy in future years and, instead, make the Tony Awards truly reflective of the artists who create the magic that fills American stages.
President, Dramatists Guild of America