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League, ATW Address Question of a Tony Rival

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Are the National Broadway Theatre Awards—which honor road shows—a springboard for a rival to the Tonys?

A Feb. 14 New York Post story stated a "memo" from the League of American Theatres and Producers about the tour awards had been "leaked" to the American Theatre Wing, its Tony Awards co-producer. The memo, the Post said, stated the league was "seeking to create its own award show to rival the Tonys."

Jan Svendsen, the league's director of marketing and business development, told Back Stage on Tuesday the "memo" was actually minutes from a recent internal meeting at which various topics were covered, of which the National Broadway Theatre Awards was one. The relevant text reads: "The intent of the National Broadway Theatre Awards is to recognize and promote shows on the road, creating value for our road members and to build a foundation for award ceremonies in the future and to incorporate New York and the road."

In seeking to clarify that last phrase—"incorporate New York and the road"—Svendsen says the reference was "not about recognizing New York productions," but "incorporating New York road members in the National Broadway Theatre Awards celebrations." Indeed, the awards are held annually on the eve of the league's spring conference, devoted to road presenters.

Moreover, she says, the tour awards "have never been considered as going head-to-head with the Tonys," although, she conceded, "one objective of the league's marketing program is to explore opportunities to celebrate Broadway. For example, 'Broadway on Broadway' was originally a street concert—now, it's a TV show with national recognition."

Svendsen confirmed that preparations for this year's National Broadway Theatre Awards are underway, and while "they are only in their third year and still morphing," she could not address whether union and non-union shows will again be equally considered.

Wing President Responds

Regarding the "leaking" of the minutes, American Theatre Wing President and CEO Roy A. Somlyo confirmed he'd seen "a report that only three shows had signed up so far" for this year's tour awards. He also understood the text to mean the league intends "to expand them to include a Broadway award show" at some future point.

Yet this, he says, doesn't concern him. "The league said they don't intend to do anything against the Tony Awards and I take them at face value. And look, there's nothing to prevent the league from doing their own awards—what would be inappropriate is putting it on TV while they're partnering with us on the Tony Awards. I think, after 30 years, CBS [which airs the Tonys] would take issue with that."

Somlyo, however, confirmed that four people—Theodore Chapin, head of the Rodgers and Hammerstein Organization, producer Peter Schneider, philanthropist and theatre supporter Sondra Gonzalez-Falla, and attorney Ronald Konecky—have been asked to help shape "long-range plans for the Tonys and to ask many internal questions." The Wing has also asked Elizabeth I. McCann, a long-established theatre producer who has served as managing producer of the Tonys for the last several years, to approach the league to see "how closely their thinking is to ours."

Somlyo notes the contract between the league and the Wing to continue co-producing the Tonys ends in July, "when either party may notify the other that after the 2004 telecast, the agreement is to be broken, or else it automatically rolls over. In effect, the Wing and the league would give a year notice." He declined to speculate on whether the text of the minutes signals a break in the offing, but says that five years ago, when their last agreement concluded, "the league told the Wing they did not wish to continue the relationship." At that point, the Wing formed its own six-year CBS deal, but "before it was executed, the league changed its mind." As for airing the honors, "CBS takes the position that they want the Tony Awards and don't care if it's the league or the Wing producing it, or both."

Svendsen, for her part, expressed optimism regarding the relationship between the groups, and welcomed the news of the Wing's committee, which will meet "informally" with the league's Tony Management Committee. "I can tell you," she says, "we're thrilled the Wing wants to explore opportunities with us, and we look forward to looking at what all of us want—ways to make the Tony Awards better."

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