First, some confessions: I am a sound designer, I have never worked on a Broadway production, and therefore, never expected to win a Tony Award (let alone be a part of a discussion of this nature).
I may not be an “insider” of the theatre world, but the decision earlier this month to stop presenting Tony Awards for sound design (of a play and also of a musical) deems a reaction from the entire sound design community. With that in mind, please support this petition initiated by John Gromada.
Link to sign the petition: Reinstate the Tony Award Categories for Sound Design Now!.
The first time I heard of the decision by the Tony Administration Committee was from Randy Thom’s post in Designing Sound on the 13th (two days after the announcement). The news initially confused me; it seemed like a huge “slap in the face” (as Randy Thom wrote) with very little that could possibly be gained by this action. Sure, sound design is not as glamorous as some categories, but there must be more to this decision.
After reading around a bit, I found an illuminating conversation between Cecilia Friederichs and Fitz Patton (people much more “in the know” about this topic than I) entitled Tony Awards Decision on Sound Design: Getting to the Reversal. Throughout their discussion, the one obvious aspect of the award association’s decision kept jumping out at me; there seemed to be a lack of understanding and a sort of trepidation within the American Theatre Wing members towards the art of sound design. It appears that a lack of knowledge in our craft (sound design) led many voting members to feel that they were inadequately able to “judge” sound design and gauge whether it was “good” or “bad”; that seemed to be the holdup when they initially added the sound design awards, and most likely remains a major part of why they’ve decided to remove them as well.
We (as a sound design community) may not control the actions of award voting associations, though we can (and should) raise our voices (in the very least, by signing a petition) and more importantly, we need to do everything in our power to educate our collaborators (in theatre, and in all media) of the importance and true power of effective or “good” sound design (and the massive detriment of “bad” sound design).
We cannot allow a lack of knowledge of our craft to be an excuse. In theatre (and other visual/auditory media), just because the best sound design should and does go consciously unnoticed by an audience (while adding great emotional depth) does not mean that it does not exist (or have value). On the contrary, it is there, and integrally important to actualizing the full emotional context and experience of the audience. In the same vein, just because sound designers are not visibly in front of an audience during a theatrical performance does not mean that their work is not of critical importance to a successful production. This is an art and great art should be commended (that is the point of awards ceremonies, right?). Great sound design and sound designers should be honored, not ignored by any organization that distinguishes creative excellence in production, which obviously would include live theatre and the American Theatre Wing’s Tony Awards. In the end, an organization or art form that utilizes sound, but does not honor its achievements (here’s looking at you, Broadway) will only hurt themselves.
This was an egregious mistake in judgement (from my perspective) that should be overturned and we as a community can help, at least in a small way by signing the petition initiated by John Gromada. Please, sign the petition and spread the word, though again, and even more importantly, educate your fellow creative collaborators on the importance of sound design in their productions.