Broadway Grapples With Tonys and Writers Strike: “Hoping to Find a Great Solution”
Following the news Friday that the Writers Guild of America had denied a waiver request that would allow the Tony Awards to be televised on June 11, New York’s theater communities are grappling with the implications of the decision for industry solidarity amid the strike.
Ahead of the GLAAD Media Awards in New York on Saturday — where multiple presenters, honorees and the show itself made statements in support of the work stoppage — Fat Ham co-producer Colman Domingo told The Hollywood Reporter on the event’s red carpet that the show’s fate is “in the hands of creatives and with creative people, we can do anything.”
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“I’m very much in support of the WGA strike. It’s just an unfortunate situation for all of us, for everyone in the industry who want things to be equitable, but who also want to support Broadway,” he said. “I’m hoping to find a great solution in some way to amplify these Broadway shows to have moments. Maybe it’s some sort of hybrid that we haven’t thought about yet.”
Broadway icon and singer Idina Menzel appeared at the event for a special performance of her new single “Move,” off her upcoming album Drama Queen. While there to “celebrate all my friends in this community who teach me how to live an authentic life and courageously in their own lives,” she also shared that whatever the Tony Awards outcome is, “I just want all my friends to be able to celebrate and be proud of what they did this year.”
The televised ceremony, which was set to be produced by White Cherry Entertainment’s Glenn Weiss and Ricky Kirshner, has historically offered nationwide exposure for plays and musicals looking for a bump in ticket sales — in some cases, to help avoid closure. (Kimberly Akimbo, Some Like It Hot and Leopoldstadt are among the musicals and plays that could benefit.)
This year’s event was scheduled to be broadcasted on CBS and streamed on Paramount+ on June 11, with a pre-show set for Pluto TV. But with the awards presentation scheduled more than a month after the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers and WGA failed to reach a new contract agreement by their May 1 deadline, the producers of the Tonys would have required a waiver to continue on as planned with a televised ceremony.
THR reported Friday that the waiver submitted by the eight-member Tony Awards Management Committee was denied several days before an emergency meeting had been scheduled to discuss how to move forward with the show for this year. (The WGA previously granted a waiver to the Grammy Awards during 2008’s strike and to the Tonys during the 1988 strike.)
On the GLAAD Awards carpet, Bob the Drag Queen — who took home a win in the outstanding reality series category for the HBO series We’re Here — addressed one of the complexities of the ceremony not being televised.
“I just found out today that the Tony Awards won’t be televised this year, which was wild because one of my friends, [Shucked‘s] Alex Newell, has broken some barriers as the first nonbinary performer to be nominated in the best actor in a featured role in a musical category. And we might not even be able to see it except for a couple of pictures, which really hurt,” he said. “But I also understand that it’s bigger than just individuals. This is one of those things where people now may be taking a pay cut or losing money, but down the line, we’ll reap the benefits, and that’s really important.”
On social media, others have spoken up, sharing their support for the strike. Fair Wage Onstage, a collection of Off-Broadway Actors’ Equity members, sent a clear statement on Twitter, writing, “Solidarity means never letting employers turn workers against workers.”
“The one and only reason the WGA is on strike is because the AMPTP refuses to give writers a fair contract for their work,” the tweet continued. “Any and all consequences of the work stoppage sit squarely on the AMPTP.”
Douglas Lyons — Parade star, the playwright of Broadway’s Chicken & Biscuits and a WGA writer, also spoke up on Instagram, in a lengthy statement in which he declared he stands in “full solidarity with WGA,” but that he also recognizes “that the cancellation of the Tonys hurts my Broadway community immensely.”
He pointed specifically to the theater industry’s ongoing pandemic recovery, which saw countless shows close, an 18-month industry shutdown and new shows struggling to stay open as both domestic and international theatergoers trickle back. It was also the impetus for his move into TV writing.
“People are allowed to be mad because the Tonys are the biggest worldwide commercial to keep the box offices of our struggling industry afloat. It’s a huge night for the future and sustainability of thousands of jobs in Theatre,” he wrote. “But let us remember this is not the WGA’s fault. This is the AMPTP’s greed that has forced this rippling effect throughout the industry.”
“Hopefully a resolution will be met where writers are paid the due royalties they’ve earned,” he continued. “I don’t have a solution, but I do have empathy.”
Mark Harris, journalist, author and husband of playwright Tony Kushner, responded to a larger discussion about the strike that was kicked off by A.J. Holmes. The Kimberly Akimbo standby initially tweeted that “this beautiful show is caught in the crosshairs of the WGA strike” before adding that “by not signing a waiver, the WGA is sentencing many to death.”
While the since-deleted tweet was met quickly with criticism, Harris noted on Twitter — in response to a WGA writer who replied to Holmes that “the AMPTP can end this strike tomorrow” and to “blame the responsible parties” — that both stances “can be true.”
“If the Tonys can’t happen, I hope everyone tweeting in support of the WGA strike will also tweet in support of the affected shows in a badly jeopardized industry facing yet another injury,” he continued. “Broadway, its shows and its workers are in no way the enemy.”
Warren Leight, a TV writer and showrunner whose credits include Law & Order: SVU and In Treatment, spoke on Twitter to the recent show of solidarity between Actors Equity and WGA members on the picket lines in New York while expressing his hope that something can be worked out.
“If you’ve been on the nyc lines, you know that @KateShindle, @ActorsEquity and their sister guild @SAGAFTRANY have been our biggest allies, marching EVERY DAY, even in dreary, isolated locations,” Leight said. “I still hope a compromise can be worked out for the Tonys, as it was in 1988 strike.”
For Fat Ham‘s Domingo, there’s also hope that audiences will show their continued support of Broadway, regardless of what happens with the show.
“I think that Broadway is an incredible place right now, and I think that people are coming back to the city,” he told THR. “I’m hoping that love for Broadway — people will fuel themselves to come here and take part in what we’ve been creating.”
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