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Category: Drama Desk Awards

Drama Desk Awards outrage: Off-Broadway shows snubbed again [Updated]

May 24, 2010 | 10:46 am

Why do the Drama Desk Awards even bother to nominate non-Broadway shows? Just so they can earn thousands of dollars from friends and family of nominees, who spend $190 to $850 per ticket to attend the ceremony and watch their loved ones suffer almost inevitable defeat? The suspicion that the Drama Desk Awards are essentially unfair was bolstered again Sunday night when winners were announced -- and non-Broadway nominees got skunked as usual.

Drama desk awards

[Updated at 2:38 p.m.: An earlier version of this post misspelled the name Public Theater as Public Theatre. It also said that "Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson" had ended its run. It will be at the Public Theater through June 27.]

Although 71 of the 155 (46%) nominations for plays and musicals went to off-Broadway productions, just three winners out of 26 came from beyond Broadway. One of these wins was for the lyrics by John Kander and the late Fred Ebb to "The Scottsboro Boys." This last tuner from the celebrated Tony-winning team ("Cabaret," "Kiss of the Spider Woman") is coming to Broadway next season.

The award for book of a musical went to "Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson," which will finish a run at the well-funded Public Theater on June 27, while the Lincoln Center Theater production of "When the Rain Stops Falling" won sound design of a play. In short, the Drama Desk's three non-Broadway winners were the equivalent of Broadway fare: high profile, glitzy. None of the real off-Broadway or off-off-Broadway nominees triumphed. Rarely do they ever break through.

Of the 23 awards that went to Broadway shows, "Memphis" won four, including best musical and lead actress in a musical (Montego Glover tied with Catherine Zeta-Jones from "A Little Night Music") as well as music (David Bryan) and orchestrations while "Red" took three awards, including best play, director (Michael Grandage) and lighting design. "Fences" -- which tied "A View From the Bridge" for best play revival -- also won for featured actress (Viola Davis) and music in a play (Branford Marsalis) while "Bridge" star Liev Schreiber won lead actor in a play. "La Cage aux Folles" won best musical revival and lead actor in a musical (Douglas Hodge) as well as best costume design. 

Unlike the Lucille Lortel Awards, which are devoted exclusively to off-Broadway productions, the Drama Desk kudos consider all theater productions in New York. Though the Lortel nominees and winners are decided  by a panel of 19 experts drawn from both the theatrical community and academia, the Drama Desk nominations are determined by just seven scribes: Barbara Siegel (Talkin' Broadway, Theater Mania), Christopher Byrne (Gay City News), Patrick Christiano (Dan's Papers, Theater Life), David Kaufman (freelance and author), Gerard Raymond (Back Stage, the Advocate), Richard Ridge (Broadway Beat TV) and Paulanne Simmons (Curtain Up and New York Theatre Wire). The entire membership of the Drama Desk decides the winners. Just who these folks are remains a mystery as the Drama Desk is the only media award that refuses to list its members.

Over Siegel's seven years at the helm of the nominating committee, Broadway contenders represented between 47% and 63% of the contenders; this year, it was 54%. They went on to win all but 12 of the 179 awards bestowed on plays and musicals. When non-Broadway nominees do manage to prevail, they tend to have prestigious reputations, as was the case with last year's winner of best play: "Ruined" had already won the Pulitzer Prize and the New York Drama Critics Circle Award. Among the other non-Broadway champs last year was "Road Show," which won best lyrics for seven-time Tony champ Stephen Sondheim. At last year's Drama Desk Awards, Broadway shows won 21 of the 26 prizes and accounted for a staggering 102 of the 161 nominations (63%).

Two years ago, only 84 of the 158 nominations (53%) went to Broadway productions, but 25 of the 26 eventual winners for plays and musicals came from the Great White Way. The sole exception was the award for best featured actress in a play, which went to Tony winner Linda Lavin ("Broadway Bound") for "The New Century."

This consistent, longstanding bias against off-Broadway shows is concrete evidence that the Drama Desk voting process is unfair. Why not reform it? Suspicion that greed over ticket revenue is behind the current system is bolstered by the group's shocking policy of charging its own members to attend, albeit at a partially discounted price. As a result, most journalists who vote on the awards can't be present to see them bestowed because they can't afford the ticket.

It's clear what needs to be done to reform the process. The Drama Desk needs to do one of two things:

1.) Its awards should be broken up into Broadway and non-Broadway (off and off-off) categories. Only journalists who have seen all nominees in a category may be permitted to vote. Or

2.) Keep the awards as they are, but only permit members to vote if they've seen all nominees. Currently, voters are asked to abstain if they haven't seen everything in a given category, but they're not policed as they are at some other award shows. (The Oscars, for example, only permit voting in races like best foreign film and documentary if voters prove they attended special screenings. The Emmys only permit voters to cast ballots in a few races and are strict with voters about proving they viewed sample video of each nominee.) Drama Desk leaders must employ random monitoring. They must ask publicists of various non-Broadway shows to give them a list of Drama Desk members who attended productions of certain nominees, then confront members who aren't on the list, but voted in that category anyway. If it's established that members broke Drama Desk rules, those members' voting rights should be pulled. This problem is so drastic at the Drama Desk Awards that a drastic remedy is needed.

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Drama Desk Awards continue love affair with Broadway

May 3, 2010 |  1:20 pm

Drama desk logo Although the Drama Desk Awards include many off-Broadway shows on Monday's list of nominees, those productions almost always lose to Broadway rivals. This year, 84 of the 155 nominations (54%) for plays and musicals went to 22 Broadway shows. That is at the low end of the range since Barbara Siegel took over as chair of the nominating committee for the 2003-2004 season. Over her first six years at the helm, Broadway contenders represented between 47% and 63% of the nominees. They went on to win all but 10 of the 153 awards bestowed on plays and musicals.

When non-Broadway nominees do manage to prevail, they tend to have prestigious reputations, as was the case with last year's winner of best play: "Ruined" had already won the Pulitzer Prize and the New York Drama Critics Circle Award. Among the other non-Broadway champs last year was "Road Show," which won best lyrics for Stephen Sondheim. At last year's awards, Broadway shows won 21 of the 26 prizes and accounted for a staggering 102 of the 161 nominations (63%). 

Two years ago, only 84 of the 158 nominations (53%) went to Broadway productions, but 25 of the 26 eventual winners for plays and musicals came from the Great White Way. The sole exception was the award for best featured actress in a play, which went to Tony champ Linda Lavin ("Broadway Bound") for "The New Century."

Unlike the Lucille Lortel Awards, which are devoted exclusively to off-Broadway productions, the Drama Desk kudos consider all theater productions in New York. While the Lortels are decided on by a panel of 19 experts drawn from both the theatrical community and academia, the Drama Desk nominations are determined by seven scribes: Siegel (,; Christopher Byrne (Gay City News); Patrick Christiano (Dan's Papers,; David Kaufman (freelance author); Gerard Raymond (Backstage, The Advocate); Richard Ridge (Broadway Beat TV) and Paulanne Simmons ( and

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As usual, non-Broadway shows get stomped at the Drama Desk Awards

May 17, 2009 | 11:27 pm

The Drama Desk Awards were bestowed, as usual, to Broadway shows over off-Broadway alternatives. "Billy Elliot" danced off with 11 prizes, including best musical.

The only major upset occurred in the race for best actress in a play with Janet McTeer ("Mary Stuart") prevailing over two stars considered to be the front-runners at the upcoming Tony Awards: Marcia Gay Harden ("God of Carnage") and Jane Fonda ("33 Variations").

Otherwise, Tony faves prevailed, including Geoffrey Rush ("Exit the King") as best actor, Angela Lansbury ("Blithe Spirit") in the supporting race and "Hair" and "The Norman Conquests" as best revivals.

Drama Desk Awards winners 78319284 news

"Shrek" star Brian d'Arcy James triumphed in the race for best musical actor without facing the triple threat awaiting him at the Tonys: the three lead stars of "Billy Elliot," who share one nomination. They were snubbed by Drama Desk voters when "Billy Elliot" producers refused to give members of the nominating committee tickets to see all three boys perform on different nights.

As usual, the ongoing unfairness of the Drama Desk Awards is painfully apparent in the results. Even though the small group of members who belong to the nominating committee give bids to many worthy non-Broadway productions, those contenders lose after not being seen by the vast majority of members who vote for the Broadway shows they bother to attend.

When non-Broadway nominees do win, they tend to have prestigious reputations, as is the case of the winner of best play: "Ruined," which recently won the Pulitzer Prize and the New York Drama Critics Circle Award. Among the few other non-Broadway winners was "Road Show," which won best lyrics for New York theater legend Stephen Sondheim.

There are two obvious solutions to this problem. Either the Drama Desk should create separate categories for Broadway and non-Broadway productions or else permit members to vote only for productions they've seen, but the group's leadership stubbornly resists making such a change that could help to boost the award's sagging reputation.

The Drama Desk Awards are bestowed by a secret group of journalists who are widely accused of having dubious credentials. That accusation can't be addressed because it's the only media award that refuses to list its members at its website.

Bold = winner

"Body Awareness"
"Becky Shaw"
"reasons to be pretty"
"Fifty Words"

"9 to 5"
"Billy Elliot"
"Liza's at the Palace"
"The Story of My Life"

"Blithe Spirit"
"Exit the King"
"Mary Stuart"
"The Cripple of Inishmaan"
"The Norman Conquests"
"Waiting for Godot"

"Enter Laughing "
"Pal Joey"
"West Side Story"

Simon Russell Beale, "The Winter's Tale"
Reed Birney, "Blasted"
Raúl Esparza, "Speed-The-Plow"
Bill Irwin, "Waiting for Godot"
Daniel Radcliffe, "Equus"
Geoffrey Rush, "Exit the King"
Thomas Sadoski, "reasons to be pretty"

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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.

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'9 to 5,' 'Shrek' and 'Billy Elliot' lead Drama Desk Awards nominations

April 27, 2009 |  5:06 pm

"9 to 5" — the Broadway musical adaptation of the hit 1980 film — was largely snubbed by the Outer Critics Circle's nominations last week, but the tale of three secretaries' revenge against a tyrannical boss struck back at the Drama Desk Awards. "9 to 5" led with the most nominations (15) when contenders were unveiled today, followed by "Shrek the Musical" (12) and "Billy Elliot" and "Hair" (10 each).

Drama desk nominations

"Ruined" — which just won the Pulitzer Prize — leads with the most Drama Desk Award bids among plays (six), but it won't be among the Tony Award nominees to be announced next Tuesday, May 5, because it's produced off-Broadway. Meantime, the Broadway show widely considered to be the front-runner to win best play at the Tonys — "God of Carnage"  — wasn't nominated by Drama Desk. In fact, only one Broadway play made the list of six shows up for best play: "reasons to be pretty." That virtually assures its victory.

"Next to Normal" and "[title of show]" are considered strong contenders in the Tonys' races for best musical and play, respectively, but they're excluded from the Drama Desk list because they premiered off-Broadway last season. Horton Foote's "Dividing the Estate" also wasn't eligible.

Another likely Tony nominee — the lead stars of "Billy Elliot" — aren't up for best actor in a musical because of a dispute. At the Tonys, all three boys who alternate in the lead role are being lumped together into one likely nomination. Members of the Drama Desk nominating committee refused to do the same because they weren't given press tickets to see more than one Billy performance each.

Surprising snubs from the Drama Desk list include August Wilson's "Joe Turner's Come and Gone," which is a major contender for acting honors and best revival at the Tonys thanks to ecstatic reviews from critics. "Rock of Ages" could rally at the Tony noms in the race for best musical and "Irena's Vow" and "33 Variations" in the battle over best play.

Among snubbed performances that could rebound at the Tonys: Harriet Walter ("Mary Stuart"), Dianne Wiest ("All My Sons"), Tovah Feldshuh ("Irena's Vow"), Kristin Scott Thomas ("The Seagull"), Robert Spencer ("Next to Normal"), James Barbour ("Tale of Two Cities").

Since the Drama Desk nominations were unveiled a few hours ago, there's been widespread criticism across the Internet over nominations for "Story of My Life" and "Fela!" as best musical and "Pal Joey" as best musical revival.

Below, the contenders. Winners will be announced on May 17 at LaGuardia High School in Manhattan during a ceremony hosted by "Harvey Fiersten," according to the Drama Desk website, but really it'll be Harvey Fierstein.

Annie Baker, "Body Awareness"
Gina Gionfriddo, "Becky Shaw"
Neil LaBute, "reasons to be pretty"
Lynn Nottage, "Ruined"
Michael Weller, "Fifty Words"
Craig Wright, "Lady"

"9 to 5"
"Billy Elliot The Musical"
"Liza's at the Palace . . . "
"Shrek the Musical"
"The Story of My Life"

"Blithe Spirit"
"Exit the King"
"Mary Stuart"
"The Cripple of Inishmaan"
"The Norman Conquests"
"Waiting for Godot"

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Some Drama Desk members blast proposed new bylaws

August 21, 2008 |  9:24 am

(Update Aug. 22: It should not be assumed that sources quoted on one topic in this article spoke to Gold Derby about others. For example, Gold Derby did not interview Leonard Jacobs, Matthew Murray, Andy Propst or Greg Bossler about the Drama Desk's proposed new bylaws.)

Some members of the Drama Desk Awards are speaking out on the organization's list serv, accusing leaders of pressing for the adoption of new bylaws that they say make challenges to current authority extremely difficult. However, as various members voiced their concerns over the last few weeks, leaders have not responded.

Members may have reason to be concerned about the leadership of the Drama Desk Awards. The New York theater prize was once widely esteemed, but nowadays attendance at its award ceremony has dropped, revenue in commercial sponsorships has fled and the show is no longer emceed by a celebrity host or telecast by PBS.

The majority of winners don't show up to collect their engraved statuettes at a cocktail reception held at Tony's Di Napoli restaurant a few months later. This year an attendee told Gold Derby that no-shows included Patti LuPone, Paulo Szot, Laura Benanti, Boyd Gaines, Mark Rylance, Linda Lavin, Laurence Fishburne and Stew.

Among the few winners who showed up were Rob Ashford, the choreographer of "Cry-Baby," and Gerard Alessandrini of "Forbidden Broadway." Last year the no-shows included Frank Langella, Eve Best, Raul Esparza, Donna Murphy, Audra McDonald, Boyd Gaines, Martha Plimpton and Debra Monk. The one actor in a major category to pick up his engraved trophy was Gavin Lee from "Mary Poppins."


The same leaders who have presided over a perceived decline in the prestige, importance and popularity of the Drama Desk Awards have been accused by members of serious transgressions.

Despite being contacted for comment, leaders have repeatedly declined to discuss the member complaints with the Gold Derby.

Among the members' charges: Two leaders allegedly bullied members to undo legitimate nominations that they personally didn't like, and they allegedly hushed up the real reason for the resignation of two members of the six-person nominating committee who decried other alleged abuses of power.

When some members tried to discuss these matters on the organization's list serv once the allegations came to light, President William Wolf allegedly cut off their access to post. Thus the Drama Desk is accused of becoming a journalist organization that censored its journalist members.

One of the gagged members, Leonard Jacobs, national theater editor of Back Stage, said, "There are clearly — to quote a lyric from 'On the Twentieth Century' — dirty doings going on."

The allegedly gagged members' posting rights were apparently restored when Gold Derby drummed up media attention. But the Drama Desk chiefs have been quiet in recent weeks while members continue to speak up on the list serv, not responding to objections that these new bylaws favor incumbency too strongly.

While weighing the new proposed bylaws, we understand that some members object to:

•  A rule requiring the signatures of a large number of members (25) in order to run for an elected office. However, current board members would not need any signatures at all when declaring for reelection.

•  A new provision insisting that only past members of the board of directors may be candidates for president or treasurer. That would guarantee that the top leadership and money-spending posts would be restricted to current chiefs.

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Drama Desk drama update: Murray's back in!

May 20, 2008 |  6:37 pm

The Drama Desk leadership dragged its heels all day but finally relented tonight and reinstated the rights of previously gagged member Matthew Murray to access the group's e-mail listserve. Early this morning, its board of directors promised to reinstate both members who'd been censored because they spoke critically of Drama Desk leaders to Gold DerbyLeonard Jacobs and Murray — but cleared only Jacobs in the morning. For the rest of today, Gold Derby waited and waited for leaders to make good on their separate promise to Murray, who frequently checked the listserve and gave us lack-of-progress reports. At 8:11 p.m. we received this e-mail from him: "I have finally been reinstated on the Drama Desk mailing list." Congrats, Matthew!

Murray was among several notable members who spoke candidly to Gold Derby about their leaders' dubious activities, which the chiefs refused to discuss when I contacted them again and again. Instead, the president of this media organization comprised of theater journalists responded by striking back at two members, cutting off their access to the Drama Desk listserve after one of them sent members a link to Gold Derby's report. An outcry ensued, and growing publicity forced the Drama Desk to reconsider its censorship of journalist members.

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."


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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No real drama: 'South Pacific,' 'August: Osage County' snag the Drama Desk Awards as expected

May 18, 2008 | 10:13 pm

The smash hit, first-ever Broadway revival of "South Pacific" swept the Drama Desk Awards Sunday night, claiming five, including best musical revival, lead actor (Paolo Szot) and director (Bartlett Sher).

Other results were equally predictable since they match what we expect will win the Tonys next month. "August: Osage County" swept the drama awards, including best play, actress (Deanne Dunagan) and director (Anna Shapiro).

Most curious results were "Boeing-Boeing" winning best play revival over "Macbeth" and "Xanadu" winning best book of a musical over "Passing Strange," which dominated most music races. The latter is less likely to occur at the Tonys where "Passing Strange" competes against frontrunner "In the Heights," which was ineligible for Drama Desk prizes this year after competing last year as an off-Broadway production. (It was nominated for best musical, but lost to a Broadway show, of course — "Spring Awakening.")


As usual, off-Broadway shows were almost shut out at the Drama Desk Awards (CLICK HERE to see patterns of past awards) despite the fact the awards were launched in 1955 to spotlight off-Broadway fare (Broadway shows weren't even eligible for the 14 years of the Drama Desk's existence! - READ MORE). Although those kudos purport to care about off-Broadway (read the real story HERE), only one winner turned out to be from an off-Broadway show: Linda Lavin, best featured actress in a play, in "The New Century," which is at an off-Broadway house as akin to the rialto industry establishment as you can get — the Mitzi Newhouse Theater at Lincoln Center which is downstairs from the Vivian Beaumont Theater where ""South Pacific" is playing.

Three shows with the most Drama Desk nominations "A Catered Affair" (12), "Adding Machine" (9) and "Young Frankenstein" (8) were totally skunked. ("South Pacific" also had 8, but won 5.)

The snubbing of "Adding Machine" was particularly unfortunate because its strong showing in the noms was supposed to be testimony to the org's assertion that it really cares about off-Broadway.

Frankly, it doesn't. What's obvious from studying the lists of noms and winners over past years is that the nominating committee makes an effort (sometimes via vote tinkering, according to some sources who've blabbed to Gold Derby) to give generous recognition to off-Broadway among the bids, but those shows very seldom win. And the ones that have in recent years were either off-Broadway shows headed to Broadway ("Grey Gardens," "In the Heights") or else productions at prestigious establishments like Lincoln Center that have the same status that Broadway houses do.

The reason for this bias in the vote results is clear. While the few members of the nominating committee make an effort to see hundreds of off-Broadway shows, the bulk of Drama Desk members don't. They're freelance writers who just see occasional shows or else they're proprietors of obscure, fringe websites who have the same agenda: to get free tix to Broadway shows. So they only vote for what they've seen. So therefore only Broadway shows triumph. Mystery solved.

Next: how to change things so that off-Broadway fare has a real chance to win? The two solutions are obvious. Stop pretending to honor off-Broadway and off-off-Broadway on an equal basis with Broadway. No chance. Drama Desk wants the participation of off-Broadway shows and income from tix sales to those folks (more than $100 a pop to attend the ceremony and its cocktail reception).

Solution No. 2: Boot out the freeloading members who won't see lots of off-Broadway shows. But there's little chance of that happening. Rumor has it that the Drama Desk Awards are in trouble financially and need the members' dues. One source tells Gold Derby that Drama Desk has lost more than $100,000 in sponsorships over the past year or two. It's also lost all TV pick-ups. In previous years it was telecast by some PBS TV stations in major markets. This year it was shown live only on There were no big musical numbers. There was no big-name host, probably because the Drama Desk couldn't afford to pay one. (Yes, hosts of award shows, including the Oscars, get paid. Why are you surprised?)

It would be nice if Drama Desk leaders would give us the story from their perspective, but they stubbornly refuse to talk to Gold Derby while persisting to smear us in letters to their members and ban us from their functions. Oh, yeah, and, as you know, they apparently refuse to give members copies of the current bylaws and they gag members who dare to talk to us about their grave concerns that Drama Desk leaders are misbehaving. That's a pretty classy media organization devoted to the highest ideals of freedom of speech, don't you think?

Bravo to the brave souls within the Drama Desk ranks who are demanding accountability from leaders. Read Gold Derby's reports of the growing scandals HERE (original allegations from esteemed members) and HERE (accusations that leaders are gagging members who blab).

Now back to Sunday night's awards. READ MORE + Here's the List of Winnahs.

(Photo: Mitzi Newhouse Theater)

Do the Drama Desk Awards betray the reason they were created?

May 18, 2008 | 12:33 pm

What's shocking about the fact that off-Broadway shows have only won four out of the 101 Drama Desk Awards bestowed over the last four years (READ MORE) is that these kudos were created in 1955 to do just the opposite.


While the Tony Awards, which date back to 1947, celebrate the best of Broadway, the Drama Desk kudos were begun in 1955 to celebrate the rest of the New York theater world. And for the first 14 years they did just that with winners coming exclusively from the burgeoning off-Broadway scene.

However, beginning with the 15th festivities in 1968, those appearing on Broadway became eligible for consideration. For the next five years, long lists of outstanding performances both on and off-Broadway were named as the year's best.

When the awards turned 21 in 1975, they began naming nominees before announcing the eventual winners. Since then, these nominees have tended to be those who would go to compete at the Tonys, leaving the off-Broadway performers in the wings.

Indeed, in 1975 three of the four lead-acting winners at the Drama Desk took home Tonys too: Angela Lansbury ("Gypsy"), Ellen Burstyn ("Same Time Next Year"), and John Cullum ("Shenandoah").

While a performer from an off-Broadway show will still win the occasional Drama Desk award — as did Christine Ebersole in 2006 for the original run of "Grey Gardens" — the proceedings are really a dress rehearsal for the Tony Awards.

Despite hype, Drama Desk Awards are strongly biased toward Broadway shows

May 18, 2008 | 12:28 pm

The Drama Desk makes much of its canvassing of the entire New York theater scene, citing the 450-plus shows attended by the members of the nominating committee. However, Broadway shows get a disproportionate share of the nominations and almost completely dominate the winners' lists. Indeed, over the last four years, off-Broadway shows have won only four of the 101 Drama Desk awards bestowed.


This year 84 of the 158 nominations (53%) went to just 18 Broadway shows. So when predicting the winners, you can eliminate almost all of the off-Broadway contenders.

Last year, Broadway shows accounted for 98 of the 158 nominations (62%), but 25 of the 26 winners. The sole exception: Andy Blankenbuehler, choreographer of the off-Broadway run of "In the Heights." Just how bad is this bias in favor of Broadway? Consider the best actress in a play race: Eve Best was the sole nominee appearing in a Broadway production, "A Moon for the Misbegotten," and she won.

For the 2005-06 season, Broadway shows only accounted for 67 of the 144 nominations (47%), but they won 23 of the 25 awards. For 2004-05, Broadway pulled off a clean sweep, winning all 25 awards, with 80 of the 148 nominations (54%). And in Barbara Siegel's first season as chairwoman of the nominating committee, 2003-04, Broadway shows received 80 of the 137 nominations (58%) and won 24 of the 25 awards.

(Photo: Richard Rodgers Theatre)

Drama Desk chief Wolf fires back; dissenters say they've been gagged

May 18, 2008 | 10:28 am

Hubbub surrounding the Drama Desk Awards scandal continues to grow. In response to Gold Derby's report of serious charges made against him by several prominent members, President William Wolf sent a heated e-mail to membership equating the article to excrement and slamming internal sources who criticized his leadership.


At least two of those critics did not receive the e-mail directly because, they say, Drama Desk leaders removed them from the Yahoo group that enables them to communicate via e-mail with other members, thus censoring fellow journalists belonging to a media organization. Matthew Murray set up a rival Yahoo e-mail group and is eagerly recruiting members to join Drama Desk Uncensored (click here to sign up).

Leonard Jacobs, national theater editor of Back Stage, is outraged and sent this e-mail (text below) to Charles Wright, Drama Desk treasurer and second vice president, who is also VP for legal and business affairs at A&E. It is reprinted here with Jacobs' OK. He says he has not yet received a response.

Drama Desk leaders have also been accused of gagging the member whose criticism triggered the current scandal. Tony Phillips insists that he hasn't technically resigned yet from the Drama Desk because he was never able to submit his notorious letter of resignation. He says leaders removed his access to the Yahoo group when they got tipped off ahead of time about his letter from New York Post columnist Michael Riedel. To read the resignation letter never officially submitted to the Drama Desk, CLICK HERE. At this point Phillips insists he is still a member and one who is also being gagged.

"The idea of being censorsed by this administration is not sitting easily with me and I've already been in touch with the attorney general's office about it," Phillips says. "They also stripped me of my voting rights even though my dues are paid up through September, so will see what happens."

Here is Leonard Jacobs' e-mail to Drama Desk officer Charles Wright:

Dear Charles,

As you are Treasurer and 2nd Vice President of record of the Drama Desk, I am writing to convey my shock that President Wolf would unilaterally remove Matthew Murray, myself and other dues-paying Drama Desk members from the Drama Desk listserv. That the head of an organization of media professionals would comport himself in such a manner only suggests a validation of the charges leveled against President Wolf and Ms. Siegel in Tom O'Neil's article on the Los Angeles Times website.

After reading the screed President Wolf emailed to the membership today, I wrote a reply that I hoped to publish on the listserv. The letter's intention is to make clear what I find to be one of the more disturbing aspects of this episode: President Wolf's refusal, despite repeated and well-documented requests, to furnish several dues-paying members with a copy of the Drama Desk bylaws. I am given to understand that the bylaws are antiquated — and, indeed, I applaud any effort to update them. I hope you will agree, however, that President Wolf should not stonewall any request to distribute the bylaws to dues-paying members who wish to read them and have taken the liberty of putting their requests in writing.


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