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Despite promises, Drama Desk still has not reinstated access rights to one gagged member

May 20, 2008 |  8:59 am

The Drama Desk admits that it censored two members who spoke candidly to Gold Derby about concerns over the group's leadership, but it has still not followed up on its promise to restore the access of both to its listserve. Only Leonard Jacobs, national theater editor of Back Stage, can now sign on and e-mail fellow members. Matthew Murray could not do so as of 3 p.m. today (May 20).

This morning the Drama Desk board of directors issued this decree: "The 3-day-old issue of the removal of two members from the Drama Desk Listserve is already moot. Their having gone outside the organization to publicly attack us on the eve of our all-important annual event was an outrage. President William Wolf informed the board that, in the heat of the moment, he had removed those two members from the Listserve, but on reflection, he felt that they were entitled to be restored."

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Memo to Mr. Wolf: If they are entitled to be restored, why are you still gagging Matthew Murray? And if they're entitled to be restored, why did you gag them in the first place? You are president of a media organization that is supposed to champion free speech as one of its most sacred values.

Memo to the board: These members and others did not "attack" you on the eve of this year's awards ceremony. They merely spoke up candidly with concerns over your leadership. To call that "an outrage" is, well, an outrage. I gave William Wolf and Barbara Seigel chance after chance to address the concerns of these members, but they refused to speak to me.

The board decree begins with this self-congratulatory comment, "The Drama Desk Board is pleased by the rave response to the annual Awards ceremony on Sunday night."

What raves? All I've heard are lousy reviews, including from three members.

One member just posted on the listserve that she found the ceremony "hard to take."

Another member just e-mailed me cynically: "Guess she didn’t get the memo about the 'rave response' to the ceremony."

A third member — Matt Windman, who writes for AM New York and has been a supporter of Drama Desk leaders like Barbara Siegel — notes at his blog that the show was a dull affair that many winners skipped.

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Windman writes: "The show's producers didn't want to pay the actors to perform, and neither did the Drama Desk. The result: a lean, mean and boring show. To make the show even shorter, many of the winners didn't show up. So when this happens, it's like this: a winner is announced, the lights come up, a brief pause, the presenter says he/she will accept it on the winner's behalf, and we move on. Not a single producer from "Boeing Boeing" came. Stew, who won both music and lyrics, didn't show." (READ MORE)

One attendee reports to Gold Derby, "There were huge, gaping areas of empty seats all over the place that are usually filled. I kept thinking: 'Where is everybody?' "

Also missing was a big-name celebrity host, which the show usually has. And WNET didn't televise it, as it usually does. The ceremony could only be viewed on Theatermania.com.

Stay tuned. Gold Derby happens to know that there are a few more amazing twists in this Drama Desk drama ahead. Yes, "Twist," as in the title of the nominee for best musical that was robbed by the nominating committee — the scandal that started an avalanche of more, some still about to drop. What's ahead? Well, we can't say and you shouldn't ask. As a lover of theater, dear reader, you must know that suspense is everything.

Below: The full decree issued today by the Drama Desk board.

"The Drama Desk Board is pleased by the rave response to the annual Awards ceremony on Sunday night. Now that the event is over, the Board is in a better position to address certain concerns that have been raised in recent days about the organization's procedures. The three-day-old issue of the removal of two members from the Drama Desk Listserve, is already moot. Their having gone outside the organization to publicly attack us on the eve of our all-important annual event was an outrage. President William Wolf informed the Board that, in the heat of the moment, he had removed those two members from the Listserve, but on reflection, he felt that they were entitled to be restored.

"The Board also wants to reaffirm that no material issues regarding eligibility for nominations were unilaterally decided by the Nominating Committee or its Chairperson. Rather, they were determined by the President and/or the Board. This includes the Board's recent decision to limit nominations to shows that have a minimum of 17 performances. That determination was made for two reasons: (1) Given the Drama Desk's commitment to covering productions in theaters large and small, and the proliferation of shows in New York, as a practical matter, there had to be some standard of eligibility; otherwise coverage would prove humanly impossible. (2) Furthermore, since the Drama Desk has a longstanding policy of allowing a show to be considered only in its first eligible production, the seventeen performance rule can be beneficial to smaller productions that may go on to a longer run.

"As for the nominating process, no decisions are made by any single person - everything is decided by vote and no decisions are final until the very end of the process. As Richard Ridge, a member of the Nominating Committee throughout Barbara Siegel's tenure as Chair, has written: “The final result has always been a ballot agreed upon by the entire committee.” President Wolf, who has also served on the Nominating Committee and was present for both incidents raised by detractors, affirms that all actions were taken by vote of the group.

"With regard to the organization's by-laws, they have been outmoded for decades. The previous administration began the process of re-examining the existing Bylaws in order to bring the organization into the present. The current administration has spent countless hours completing the proposed update in order to accommodate the many changes in the entertainment industry, the media (including the emergence of the Internet), and the growth of our organization. The Board anticipates distributing the proposed revision (along with reference copies of the obsolete Bylaws) by the end of next month for membership review.

"The recent attacks on the Drama Desk began with a former member of the Nominating Committee complaining to the New York Post about having been removed from the Committee. That member resigned from the organization (i.e., after being removed from the Committee) in a letter addressed to the Drama Desk that was quoted in the Post and published in several places on the Internet. He has now complained on a blog that he should have access to the Drama Desk Listserv and that he should have been permitted to vote for the 2008 Drama Desk Awards. In light of his public resignation, his argument is ludicrous.

"In conclusion, it appears a mere handful of the approximately 160 Drama Desk members constitute the entire chorus of disapproval on which a few media outlets have been reporting. The real story -- unfortunately of little interest to the blogosphere - is the outpouring of support for the Board and for the Nominating Committee."


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