Sunday, June 14, 2020

DRAMA DESK AWARDS: Honoring the best of the 2019-2020 New York Theater Season

Undaunted after being moved from a formal, ticketed live-on-stage event to a low-key prerecorded ceremony, the Drama Desk, of which I am a voting member, last night announced the winners of its 65th annual awards honoring the best of Broadway and Off Broadway for the 2019-2020 season.

Although New York theater was forced to come to a TEMPORARY halt due to the global pandemic, there was an exciting and rich theater season prior to the March 12 lockdown, with a great many plays and musicals to be considered for these awards.  

Below is the list of winners, but before we go there, I would like to draw your attention to this message of support for racial equality from the organization:  

"The Drama Desk is committed to honoring all that's outstanding in the work of New York's diverse theater artists and craftspeople.  We regret the postponement of our awards ceremony, but, as an organization committed to the principle that all voices must be heard, we stand with the global Black Lives Matter movement, decrying the racial injustice and violence in our nation and city."


Here is the list of the winners: 

Outstanding Play
The Inheritance

Outstanding Musical
A Strange Loop

Outstanding Revival of a Play
A Soldier’s Play

Outstanding Revival of a Musical
Little Shop of Horrors

Outstanding Actor in a Play
Edmund Donovan, Greater Clements

Outstanding Actress in a Play
Liza Colón-Zayas, Halfway Bitches Go Straight to Heaven

Outstanding Actor in a Musical
Larry Owens, A Strange Loop

Outstanding Actress in a Musical
Adrienne Warren, Tina: The Tina Turner Musical

Outstanding Featured Actor in a Play
Paul Hilton, The Inheritance

Outstanding Featured Actress in a Play
Lois Smith, The Inheritance

Outstanding Featured Actor in a Musical
Christian Borle, Little Shop of Horrors

Outstanding Featured Actress in a Musical
Lauren Patten, Jagged Little Pill

Outstanding Solo Performance
Laura Linney, My Name is Lucy Barton

Outstanding Director of a Play
Stephen Daldry, The Inheritance

Outstanding Director of a Musical
Stephen Brackett, A Strange Loop

Outstanding Choreography
Sonya Tayeh, Moulin Rouge!

Outstanding Music
Dave Malloy, Octet

Outstanding Lyrics
Michael R. Jackson, A Strange Loop

Outstanding Book of a Musical
Michael R. Jackson, A Strange Loop

Outstanding Orchestrations
Tom Kitt, Jagged Liittle Pill

Outstanding Music in a Play
Martha Redbone, for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf

Outstanding Set Design of a Play
Clint Ramos, Grand Horizons

Outstanding Set Design for a Musical
Derek McLane, Moulin Rouge!

Outstanding Costume Design for a Play
Rachel Townsend and Jessica Jahn, The Confession of Lily Dare

Outstanding Costume Design for a Musical
Catherine Zuber, Moulin Rouge!

Outstanding Lighting Design for a Play
Heather Gilbert, The Sound Inside

Outstanding Lighting Design for a Musical
Justin Townsend, Moulin Rouge!

Outstanding Sound Design in a Play
Paul Arditti and Christopher Reid, The Inheritance

Outstanding Sound Design in a Musical
Peter Hylenski, Moulin Rouge!

Outstanding Projection Design
Luke Halls, West Side Story

Outstanding Wig and Hair Design
Campbell Young Associates, Tina: The Tina Turner Musical

Outstanding Fight Choreography

Thomas Schall, A Soldier’s Play

Outstanding Puppet Design
Raphael Mishler, Tumacho

Unique Theatrical Experience
Is This A Room

Outstanding Adaptation
A Christmas Carol

Special Awards
Ensemble Award: “To the eight pitch-perfect performers in Dave Malloy’s a cappella musical Octet: Adam Bashian, Kim Blanck, Starr Busby, Alex Gibson, Justin Gregory Lopez, J.D. Mollison, Margo Seibert and Kuhoo Verma proved instrumental in giving a layered look at modern forms of addiction.”

Sam Norkin Award: “To actress Mary Bacon, who continued her versatile career of compassionate, searing work for such companies as The Mint, Primary Stages, The Public Theater and The Actors Theater Company, with two of Off-Broadway’s most humane performances this season in Coal Country at the Public Theater and Nothing Gold Can Stay presented by Partial Comfort Productions.”

“To The Actors Fund, Seth Rudetsky and James Wesley for connecting members of the theater community and lifting spirits during the coronavirus crisis. The Actors Fund has worked tirelessly to provide financial and health resources to those impacted by the pandemic; Rudetsky and Wesley’s semi-daily Stars in the House webcast is raising funds for The Actors Fund, while providing performances, reunions, and medical updates.”

“To The Public Theater’s Mobile Unit, a reinvention of Joseph Papp’s “Mobile Theater” that began in 1957 and evolved into the New York Shakespeare Festival and The Public Theater. The current Mobile Unit tours free Shakespeare throughout the five boroughs, including prisons, homeless shelters and community centers, reminding audiences new and old that the play really is the thing. ”

“To WP Theater and Julia Miles, the company’s founder who died this spring. Formerly known as The Women’s Project and Productions, the company began in 1978 at American Place Theatre, where Miles served as associate to visionary artistic director Wynn Handman, who also died this spring. WP is the largest, most enduring American company that nurtures and produces works by female-identified creators. Over a little more than four decades, it has changed the demographics of American drama through an unwavering focus on women writers, directors, producers, performers and craftspeople.”

“To Claire Warden for her pioneering work as an intimacy choreographer in such recent projects as Frankie and Johnny in the Claire de Lune and Linda Vista and her leadership in the rapidly emerging movement of intimacy direction. As part of the creative team of Intimacy Directors & Coordinators and Director of Engagement for and co-founder of Intimacy Directors International, she is helping create theater experiences that are safer for performers and more authentic for contemporary audiences.”


Feel free to share this blog with your friends, and to offer up your own theater stories by posting a comment. 

Wednesday, June 10, 2020


More than 300 theater artists - black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) - published a letter addressed to “White American Theater” decrying racial injustice in their industry online on Monday.

You can read the entire letter below. But before that, I want to comment on the broader context of embedded, institutionalized racism in America.  

If, like me, you are white and consider yourself an ally of social justice in America, please don’t talk about “defining moments” and “turning points” unless you are willing to roll up your sleeves and do some of the heavy lifting in order to truly “define” and “turn.”
Talk, even talk filled with outrage and empathy, won’t move this country in another direction if we simply go back to business as usual and suck our teeth and roll our eyes and scream at the TV set.
One of the best-expressed statements I’ve heard lately is this: It’s not that America is broken. It is functioning the way it is by intent and design, just as it always has, with some but not remotely enough progress over the course of 244 years as a nation, and even before that, dating to 1619 and the arrival of the first known slave ship with a cargo of slaves to sell to the colonist
If you are reading this, I believe it is likely you understand that there are issues of institutionalized racism that encompass political, legislative, governing, financial, educational, housing, jobs, salaries, health, nutrition, the creative and performing arts, and accessibility to all of these and more. I’ll be thinking more about what I can do.

Meanwhile, might I suggest watching Oprah’s Town Hall on Race? Part I last night laid the groundwork. Tonight’s focus is on where we go from here.


And, as promised, here is the letter that is garnering even more signatures and support as I post this:

Dear White American Theater,

We come together as a community of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) theatremakers, in the legacy of August Wilson’s “The Ground on Which I Stand,” to let you know exactly what ground we stand on in the wake of our nation’s civic unrest.

We see you. We have always seen you. We have watched you pretend not to see us.

We have watched you un-challenge your white privilege, inviting us to traffic in the very racism and patriarchy that festers in our bodies, while we protest against it on your stages. We see you.

We have watched you program play after play, written, directed, cast, choreographed, designed, acted, dramaturged and produced by your rosters of white theatermakers for white audiences, while relegating a token, if any, slot for a BIPOC play. We see you.

We have watched you amplify our voices when we are heralded by the press, but refuse to defend our aesthetic when we are not, allowing our livelihoods to be destroyed by a monolithic and racist critical culture. We see you.

We have watched you inadequately compare us to each other, allowing the failure of entire productions to be attributed to decisions you forced upon us for the comfort of your theater’s white patrons. Meanwhile, you continue to deprioritize the broadening of your audiences by building NO relationship with our communities. We see you.

We have watched you harm your BIPOC staff members, asking us to do your emotional labor by writing your Equity, Diversity and Inclusion statements. When we demanded you live up to your own creeds, you cowered behind old racist laments of feeling threatened, and then discarded us along with the values you claim to uphold. We see you.

We have watched you discredit the contributions of BIPOC theatres, only to co-opt and annex our work, our scholars, our talent, and our funding. We see you.

We have watched you turn a blind eye as unions refuse to confront their racism and integrate their ranks, muting the authenticity of our culture and only reserving space for us to shine out front on your stages but never behind them. We see you.

We have watched you dangle opportunities like carrots before emerging BIPOC artists, using the power of development, production, and awards to quiet us into obedience at the expense of our art and integrity. We see you.

We have watched you use our BIPOC faces on your brochures, asking us to politely shuffle at your galas, talkbacks, panels, board meetings, and donor dinners, in rooms full of white faces, without being willing to defend the sanctity of our bodies beyond the stages you make us jump through hoops to be considered for. We see you.

We have watched you hustle for local, federal, foundation and private funding on our backs, only to redirect the funds into general operating accounts to cover your deficits from years of fiscal mismanagement. We see you.

We have watched you hire the first BIPOC artists in executive leadership, only to undermine our innovations and vision of creating equitable institutions, by suffocating our efforts with your fear, inadequacy, and mediocrity. We see you.

We have watched you attend one “undoing racism workshop,” espousing to funders you are doing the work, without any changes to your programming or leadership. You’ve been unwilling to even say the words “anti-racism” to your boards out of fear of them divesting from your institutions, prioritizing their privilege over our safety. We see you.

We have watched you promote anti-Blackness again and again. We see you.

We have watched you say things like – I may be white, but I’m a woman. Or, I may be white, but I’m gay. As if oppression isn’t multi-layered. We see you.

We have watched you exploit us, shame us, diminish us, and exclude us. We see you.

We have always seen you.

And now you will see us.

We stand on this ground as BIPOC theatremakers, multi-generational, at varied stages in our careers, but fiercely in love with the Theatre. Too much to continue it under abuse. We will wrap the least privileged among us in protection, and fearlessly share our many truths.

About theatres, executive leaders, critics, casting directors, agents, unions, commercial producers, universities and training programs. You are all a part of this house of cards built on white fragility and supremacy. And this is a house that will not stand.

This ends TODAY.

We are about to introduce yourself.


The Ground We Stand On