Thursday, May 31, 2012

Broadway Buzz: What Does It Mean to be a Tony Voter?

Last week, the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center’s President Susan Stockton had a chance to chat about her role as a voting member of the Tony Awards®. It was a very busy time as she had just returned from a week in New York, attending the Broadway League Conference and squeezing in every possible Tony-nominated performance before she casts her votes. 

But just what does it mean to be a Tony voter?

Fox Cities P.A.C. President Susan Stockton
Q: How do you get to be a Tony voter?
Stockton: The criteria for who can be a Tony voter changes from time to time, but basically it’s divided into two categories: presenters and producers. Obviously, I fall into the category of presenter based on my work here at the Center. Initially, you have to be recommended by a current Tony voter and submit an extensive resume, highlighting your theater background. I first became a Tony voter during the 2004/05 Season, and now each year, I have to annually re-qualify based on the number of eligible Broadway weeks we present at the Fox Cities P.A.C.

Q: How many Tony voters are there?
Stockton: The numbers vary somewhat from year to year, but it’s generally between 750-800. This year, I think there are 830 qualified voters.

Q: How does the Tony voting process work?
Stockton: The Tony season actually runs from July through a cut-off date that’s set in April. Early in the year, qualifying Tony voters are sent a signature card to verify their authenticity against their ballot later in the year, and from there you see as many shows as possible. In the interest of keeping travel expenses in check, I try to see 5-8 shows every time I’m in New York. On my most recent trip, I saw 11 shows back to back.

From there, I go home and spend quite a lot of time considering my experience at the show and how it resonated with the audience. I review scripts and scores and other promotional materials that the producers may send. It’s much more than just seeing a show and then casting a vote. I have to consider the outstanding features and merits of each show and qualify those against the other nominees. After a lot of deliberation, I cast my vote in the mail.

One of the amazing things about the Tonys is that votes are due on Friday, June 8, leaving only two days to calculate the winners before the live show on June 10. It’s amazing how quickly the awards come together.

Q. What, to you, makes a show Tony worthy?
Stockton: My votes are focused on the art form rather than an interest in the show’s success. I look for shows that are thoughtfully put together and which clearly show that the creative team invested a lot of energy in its development. I like interesting shows and productions that are relevant and compelling. For me, theater has to resonate with an audience and really engage people to earn my vote.
Q. Do you have any favorites this season? What is your all-time favorite Broadway show?
Stockton: I don’t have favorites, this year or thinking in terms of all-time. I think this year there are a lot of great shows and some really stunning performances. It’s an especially rich play season, and there are quite a few plays, which is terrific. But I think as theatergoers, we attach ourselves to a work at a certain point of time, and it’s powerful because it resonates to our frame of mind.

I remember one play titled Journey’s End a few years ago. It was beautifully staged and well acted, and it took place in the trenches of World War I. It resonated so well because the country was at war, and that made it especially poignant and moving. But I wouldn’t say it’s my favorite today because my frame of mind has shifted since then. It’s always a changing landscape, and I think that’s the challenge of theater – to tap into something that’s eternally relevant.

Q. How does your connection with the Tony Awards apply to your role at the Fox Cities P.A.C.?
Stockton: Being a part of the Tony Awards is important for any organization that wants to present high quality, eligible shows. First, it drives you to make sure you are seeing every show you can every year. Overtime, seeing the current shows adds to your cannon of knowledge and gives you the tools to be conversant in dialogue with producers.

It also helps me gauge a production’s quality because the touring shows, while they are not exact copies of the Broadway productions, have the same elements of design and choreography. You become familiar with the creative teams and the actors and actresses, and it’s good to be familiar with their work when they head out on tour.

All of the knowledge and involvement helps me, as a representative of the Center, as we build our Broadway seasons. It’s highly competitive, and I think it certainly gives the Center an edge to have a staff well-versed in the current theater trends on Broadway and around the country.

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