6 Reasons Stage Managers Don’t Get A Tony Award

The 2017-18 Broadway season is officially in the rearview mirror and culminated in the Tony Awards a few weeks ago. Since then I’ve been reflecting on the season and about stage managers.  Because stage management is what I think about. And I wondered why there isn’t a Tony Award for the stage manager?

Our industry honors so many in our industry, but on its special nationally televised night. There is no stage management acknowledgement. In fact, there is no annual stage management award at any of the big ceremonies: Drama Desks, Obies, Outer Circle Critics, Lortels, etc…

It would be great to be recognized, of course; but we stage managers don’t make the cut. Why? Here are my six reasons why stage managers don’t get awards

#1. Awards focus on what you see onstage: the fine work of the actors, directors, choreographers and designers. What you don’t see from the audience is the contribution of the managers making it all happen.   Our “art” is bringing all the creative bits and pieces together and coordinating all the logistics for a show to run smoothly, seamlessly and frankly, as if we were doing nothing at all.  When we are doing a great job, the audience shouldn’t know we even exist, aside from the preshow announcement. So, if you can’t see it, how can you judge it?

#2. You may not notice good stage management from the FOH, but you can see bad stage management. Lighting cues not in line with the music, or lights coming up before a transition is complete? Or worse, crashing scenery! All that could be the stage manager making errors. Are the understudies not prepared, is the show expanding, extra bits creeping in and the show is not as tight or clean as opening night? The stage manager may not be maintaining the show well. And if the SM has to announce a hold during the show and literally keep the audience in the dark? That’s when the audience is keenly aware of the stage manager. Now it may not be the stage managers fault, but they are the voice of the stop and the person associated with the incident. So, if the audience is only aware of us when there is a problem, we have a problem, right?

#3. Stage management is ephemeral, it is what happens between people in time and space. You can’t show great listening skills, persuasiveness, gentle confidence building, simple kindness and all the other leadership skills that great stage managers use to communicate, coordinate and keep a show running well. Award shows have a tough enough time trying to figure out a good way to showcase plays and playwrighting, how would you show leadership, compassion, scheduling, etc… You can’t take a picture or video of great stage management to showcase it. Maybe you can show off your production book, but no matter how great looking your paperwork is, that alone is not going to convince someone to give you an award.

#4. Only stage managers really understand stage managers. Unless you have stage managed before, you really don’t understand what it is we do and/or how we do it. Not that you can’t appreciate your stage manager, but there is a difference. It’s similar to the difference between sympathy and empathy. You can give me your sympathy, but unless you’ve been in exactly my situation, you can’t empathize. We stage managers go through a unique crucible from pre-production, rehearsals, tech and the run. We deal with everyone else’s concerns, it’s never about us or our needs, always about taking care of the rest of the company. We sacrifice breaks, lunches, sleep and more; but we do it because we love it. This is not a complaint, but rather an acknowledgement that unless you’ve done it, can can’t really understand. And if you don’t understand what I do, how can you give me an award for it?

#5. A few years ago, the Sound Design Tony Award was taken away, leaving many in the industry confused, sad and even angry. Well, the Sound Tony is back thankfully, but it highlights how misunderstood the contribution of this design element is. On the Tony broadcast, all the design awards are given out during commercial breaks, so unless you are in the live audience you don’t get to see those awards handed out. Watching from home, you just get the one sentence of their acceptance speech that is telecast. I bring this up because if the design elements are not understood or acknowledged in the same fashion as the other awards, I can’t imagine how a stage manager award would stack up.

#6. A good friend of mine recently described herself as, “A King maker, not a King.” I thought this was quite appropriate for us stage managers.  We work tirelessly, so that others can reap the glory. That is who we are and what we do. It would be great to be recognized, but we are not interested in that and as a profession, don’t really advocate for it.  You may be aware (hopefully you are) that Actors Equity is advocating for a new Tony Award for best ensemble and best chorus to acknowledge the important contribution they make and I fully support that effort. However, there is no advocacy for a stage manager award. Why would a King maker ever tell the king to give them a crown? Even this article isn’t about why we should get awards, it’s about understanding why we don’t.

With all that said, there is a bit of an exception here. the Stage Managers’ Association created the Del Hughes Award many years ago to honor lifetime achievement in the art of stage management in any part of our industry.  The winners are a long list of some of the best stage managers ever. You can read more about it here: https://www.stagemanagers.org/del-hughes-award/

This is one place where stage managers get a chance to honor other stage managers at an annual award ceremony in midtown Manhattan. It’s from and by the people who are their colleagues and can see, understand and comprehend their work. This award is for lifetime achievement though, so you really have to have a great career to win, no one hit wonders in this elite club! You can’t be a Marissa Winokur or Sutton Foster and win this one in your 20’s!

In summary, there are many reasons I don’t think you’ll see a stage manager Tony Award, but that’s okay. In part because we know that we are the glue, not the glitter, but also because the nature of our job is extremely hard to judge.

Thankfully, the Del Hughes Award exists as a way where we can honor stage managers for their body of work and contribution to our profession. And the Tony committee occasionally gives an Honor for a stage manager (for example, Peter Lawrence in 2014) which is awesome.  But for now, we stage managers will continue on doing the great work we do, awards or no awards, because we love what we do and know what an important job stage management is.

The SMA Del Hughes Awards 2015

Jimmy McDermott, Jill Rendall, Frank Hartenstein, and Craig Jacobs at the Del Hughes Awards 2015

Jimmy McDermott, Jill Rendall, Frank Hartenstein, and Craig Jacobs at the Del Hughes Awards 2015An evening at the Del Hughes Awards is a chance to celebrate and validate our lofty craft, Stage Management. I confess – I love tribute ceremonies. They touch me. The honoring of a career by one’s peers is a beautiful thing to witness. Del Hughes Awards night is the one night in a year that stage managers can come together to share and celebrate their unique love of the theatre and all forms of live entertainment. And the evening of Monday, May 11, 2015 at Connolly’s Pub in midtown Manhattan was no exception. The tributes given this evening for our three honorees were very different but all were heartfelt, filled with love and respect, and passionate about the beauty of how stage managers make a difference in the business and the world.

Elynmaire Kazle, Chair of the SMA started off the evening welcoming all who attended. Rich Costabile (past Chair and Del Hughes Committee member) MC’d the evening.

Craig Jacobs was celebrated first by the remarkable Tom Viola of BCEFA. Tom’s recognition of Craig’s constant efforts on the part of the cause was beautiful and powerful. Next, Martha Knight (2014 Del Hughes honoree) read from the many notes of congratulations sent in by Craig’s admirers including Chita River, Tyne Daly and Harold Prince, just to mention a few. Tom Bartlett’s note mentioned one observation: “When spoken by Craig, ‘No!’ is a complete sentence”! Bethe Ward ran in just before the ceremony with a many-paged scroll of signatures and appreciation from the cast of PHANTOM OF THE OPERA where Craig PSM’d for years. A lot of love was beamed to Craig whose health prevented him from attending in person though we are sure that he was there in spirit.

Jill Rendall returned triumphantly to NYC from the Oregon Shakespeare Festival where she has reigned as the “Queen of Repertory” – a title bequeathed by Jimmie McDermott (2014 Del Hughes honoree), who introduced Jill – in order to receive her Del Hughes Award. Jill’s varied and long career has taken her coast-to-coast with many significant stops in-between. She has spent the vast majority of her career at LORT theatres and was central to negotiating the current Equity contract for regional theatres. Her acceptance speech was humble and moving. Jill holds dear the many artists and craftspeople with whom she has worked over the decades … and it is clear to see that they feel just as passionately about what Jill’s stage management has meant to them through countless productions. They are celebrating at OSF!

Frank Hartenstein was introduced by his longtime associate Tripp Phillips who spoke eloquently of assisting Frank back in the old days. It is clear that throughout his career, Frank has had a tremendous influence on so many in the business – several of his assistants from over the years were in attendance to support and honor him. And in his acceptance, Frank made it very clear that none of us can be successful without the dedicated and skillful help of those with whom we work in this most collaborative of art forms. Frank’s career spans decades and includes some of Broadway’s most memorable and challenging shows: A Chorus Line, Big River, Starlight Express, Into the Woods, The Who’s Tommy to name a few.

Big thanks go out to Janet Friedman, Chair of the Del Hughes Committee, all the members of the committee and members at large who volunteered their time in putting together a very successful event.

Del Hughes Awards 2014 Press Release

The Stage Managers’ Association (NYC) (July 2, 2014) for immediate release. Elynmarie Kazle, the Chair of the Stage Managers’ Association, is pleased to announce the honorees for the 2014 Del Hughes Award for Lifetime Achievement and Excellence in the Art of Stage Management. On Monday, June 23rd, members and distinguished guests gathered to honor Thomas Kelly (NYC) Martha Knight (Washington, D.C.) and James (Jimmie) McDermott (Los Angeles) at a celebration in New York City at Connolly’s on 121 W. 45th Street. The Chair of the event was Janet Friedman and the Emcee was past SMA Chair, Richard Costabile.

Thomas Kelly has been a Stage Manager, Production Staging Supervisor, and a General Production Manager for over 50 years since going off to summer stock in 1962. He has had an active career both on and off Broadway, with his Broadway credits including Hair, The Wiz, Sugar Babies, Merchant of Venice, and Death of a Salesman (with Dustin Hoffman). He worked with Christopher Plummer on Cyrano! The Musical and with Tommy Tune’s productions of The Club and A Day in Hollywood/A Night in the Ukraine. Tom has also worked in stock and regional theatres. As a Production Manager and Staging Supervisor, he has worked on such diverse productions as The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, MTV’s Unplugged series, and the Papal Mass in Central Park. He has managed installations and presentations including the first VHI Music/Fashion Awards, and at MTV and Between the Lions for WGBH. Tom has served as Production Manager for Center Line Studios, one of New York’s foremost scenery companies, and on the faculty of The State University of New York at Purchase.

Martha Knight (Stage Manager) has been a stage manager at The Arena Stage in Washington, D.C. for over 30 years and most recently on Other Desert Cities. Last season, she stage managed Long Day’s Journey Into Night in the Kreeger Theater and in the previous season At Home at The Zoo in the Kogod Cradle. Martha has worked on Broadway, off-Broadway and on national tours such as: Foxfire; Annie; Give ‘Em Hell, Harry!; Over Here!; and The Me Nobody Knows. This past summer, Martha received the ‘Broadway Salutes’ medal for 50 years of theatrical work. For the past 35+ years, she has been happily stage managing in the Washington area’s many theaters doing plays, musicals and free-lance productions; including 25 years of The Helen Hayes Awards. She proudly joined Actors’ Equity in 1962 at Musicarnival “under thebig, blue tent” in Cleveland, Ohio.

James McDermott: Jimmie has stage managed across the country and in the greater Los Angeles Area for organizations such as Center Theatre Group (Ahmanson, Mark Taper Forum, Kirk Douglas Theatres) the Geffen/Westwood Playhouse, Los Angeles Theatre Center, La Jolla Playhouse and South Coast Repertory. Jimmie is in his fourth five-year elected term on the Council of Actors’ Equity Association, a Vice Chair of the Western Board of Directors, Chairman of the Western Regional Stage Manager’s and LORT Committees. In 2001, he was the first Stage Manager to be named as the Outstanding Professional Stage Manager in whose name the USITT Outstanding Stage Manager Award was given. The 2013/2014 school year marks Jimmie’s 18th year on the faculty of Cal Arts.

The Del Hughes Award is regarded throughout the theatrical community as a crowning achievement for a stage manager’s career. The Del Hughes Award was created by Julie Hughes and Barry Moss, partners in a major casting office. This award honors Julie’s father who made a 50-year career of stage managing. The selection committee looks for recipients who exemplify the finest qualities of Stage Management: patience, diplomacy, organization and a sense of humor.

Phil Friedman, Bob Fosse’s stage manager, was the very first to be so honored.

The following Stage Managers have previously received this award: Phil Friedman, Fritz Holt, Bill Dodds, Ruth Mitchell , Anne Keefe, Anne Sullivan, Biff Liff, Morty Halpern, Alan Hall (2010), Porter Van Zandt (2010), Susie Cordon (2010), Joe Drummond (2011), Steve Zweigbaum (2011), Beverley Randolph (posthumously) (2011), Bob Bennett (2013), Peter Lawrence (2013) and Perry Silvey (2013).

The Stage Managers’ Association, founded in the fall of 1981, by and for stage managers, is a professional networking and educational organization for stage managers all across the United States. Among the activities of the Association are mentoring, job lisitngs, “Operation Observation”, and online educational forums. The SMA also helps raise funds annually for the causes supported by the Broadway Cares/EFA Flea Market.

For more information on the SMA visit: https://www.facebook.com/stagemanagersassociation