Does the Winner Really Take It All?

As I was preparing to write this week’s blog post, I began as I always do: by browsing through my favorite theater websites, looking for headlines that sparked within me enough interest that I could be moved to write a few hundred words of my own on the subject. And, as is typical at this time of year, these headlines were disproportionately related to Awards—the Obies and the Lortels, the Drama Leagues and the Drama Desks, and, of course, the Tonys. If the Internet is any indication, I thought, Broadway is almost exclusively focused on one thing: winning.

Now, don’t get me wrong: I love an awards show as much as the next guy (I did, after all, spend an entire post detailing some tips and tricks for a killer Tonys party). Yet every April and May, I remain surprised by the invasion of these Awards on our theatrical discourse; we become so consumed by our discussions of who will win what and who should have been nominated and what musical numbers will read best on a CBS telecast that I begin to wonder what we’ve been talking about for the rest of the year. A search on Twitter the morning of the Tony nominations revealed not a community of fans celebrating another year of exciting plays and musicals, but a collection of complaints about certain shows being snubbed—as if an award is necessary to validate our enjoyment of any particular performance.

I understand, of course, that there’s a lot to love about winning. On a personal level, it’s wonderful to know that all of your hard work is being recognized and appreciated by your peers. From a commercial standpoint, awards can translate into ticket sales, allowing producers to make back their money which they can, in turn, invest into new projects. But I’ve yet to speak with a theater artist who has dedicated herself to her craft primarily because she craves this kind of tangible recognition; instead, I often hear a paraphrase of the words immortalized by Lady Gaga: I live for the applause. We love theater—we make theater—because it facilitates a connection between artist and audience that is impossible to find in any other medium.

Perhaps this is why I’ve found myself so jarred by this cyber-frenzy over Awards Season, and why I now find myself compelled to write this post. Yes, awards are nice, as is watching the ceremonies at which they are distributed. But are the opinions of a few hundred people really worth our scrutiny, our indignation? Whether a performance or production wins an award is essentially meaningless for us fans; what does matter—should matter—is our experience with that performance or production—how it challenges us, excites us, inspires us.

At the risk of this extending into a tirade, I’ll conclude with a tweet from Lin-Manuel Miranda who, in 140 characters, puts this argument far more eloquently than I ever could:

Remember those feelings, man. That’s the true reward right there.

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