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Should the Drama Desk revamp its awards?

April 28, 2009 |  7:07 am

Although the Drama Desk Awards include many off-Broadway and off-off-Broadway shows on the list of nominees, those shows almost always lose to Broadway rivals. Last year, only 84 of the 158 nominations (53%) went to 18 Broadway productions, but 25 of the 26 eventual winners for plays and musicals (not cabaret shows) came from the Great White Way. The sole exception was the award for best featured actress in a play, which went to Linda Lavin for "The New Century," a show that was, technically, off-Broadway, but one that had all of the chi-chi appeal of a rialto production because it was staged at Lincoln Center.

Linda Lavin Drama Desk

This year, a staggering 102 of the 173 nominations (69%) went to 21 Broadway shows. That is the highest percentage since Barbara Siegel took over as chair of the nominating committee for the 2003-2004 season. Over her first five years at the helm, Broadway contenders represented between 47% and 62% of the nominees. They went on to win all but five of the awards.

Although only eight members of the group select the nominees after seeing upward of 100 shows per year, the full membership votes on winners. I know more than a dozen Drama Desk voters. All of them admit that most members don't see most of the shows nominated. Thus, they end up voting for what they've seen and liked. That means shows on Broadway. Isn't it cruel to invite nominees from non-Broadway shows to attend an awards ceremony where they have virtually no hope of winning?

Answer: Yes. How to fix this situation? It is time to split these kudos up into separate categories for Broadway and non-Broadway shows. The Outer Critics Circle — which shares many members with the Drama Desk — allocates separate awards for Broadway and off-Broadway plays and musicals. However, it too combines all the performance and creative contenders into single races. The Drama Desk Awards should be consistent — separate performance awards just like production prizes. If it did so, it could establish itself as a prestigious award for the rest of the New York theater scene.

Even more so than the Outer Critics Circle, the Drama Desk — which hands out its awards just days after Tony voters receive their ballots — is thought to influence the outcome of the Tony Awards. This year, the OCC announces its winners on May 11, while the Drama Desk Awards ceremony is on May 17. The Tony nominations will be revealed on May 5, and winners will be announced on June 7.

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Photo credit: Lincoln Center

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