Snubbed By The Tonys, And By Life
In a word cloud for articles about the Tony Award nominations, which were announced on Tuesday, the word “snub” would be just about as big as “Broadway” or “Hugh Jackman.” Annually, without fail, there is fervent reaction to the omissions, followed a short while later by knowledgeable-sounding (but pointless) predictions of which show or person the 700 Tony voters would pick as the winner.
As a comic riff on these two bizarre rites, on the Monday before the nominations were announced, I put the two together and asked people to predict the Tony snubs.
An actress who calls herself Backstage Barbie on Twitter (@BarbieBackstage) predicted Elaine Paige. Producer Jordan Levine (@JL_Producer) said that Patrick Page of Spider-Man “might be worth a nomination for what he’s endured” but implied Page would be snubbed. Diane Wilshere (@petricat666) predicted Matthew Broderick, L.L. Houston said “I hope Godspell doesn’t get snubbed.” Writer and designer Chris Barlow (@Iamchrisbarlow) replied: “I’m snubbed every year! And just because I don’t work on Broadway!”
(The next day, all the predictions turned out to be true.)
But the fun was interrupted by someone who complained that I was “baiting” people, that when journalists use the word snub they turn an event that is supposed to honor the chosen into one that insults the people who were not chosen.
He had a point, but it was ironic that he was the person making it to me. A few years ago, when he was moderating a panel for which he chose a couple of online critics and I was not one of them, I didn’t think anything of it. A while afterwards, he wrote a blog post that linked to something like 30 theater critics, and I was not one of them; I guess I’m his 31st favorite critic, I joked to myself. Sometime later, he listed 97 theater Tweeters and I was not one of them. Ok, maybe he does know NINETY-SEVEN theater Tweeters better than he knows me, or NINETY-SEVEN who Tweet better than I do, even though I’ve been on Twitter for THREE YEARS and we met in person SEVERAL TIMES, and Broadway World said that my Twitter feed…
The trouble with feeling snubbed is the double indignity, the triple pettiness of it. You’re annoyed that you’ve been excluded, but also annoyed you even noticed you’ve been excluded. You’re annoyed that you are annoyed, even when you are only a little bit annoyed. You stew over whether it is deliberate. You worry whether it is deserved. You think the snubber is being childish, but you wonder whether you are being even more so for reacting.
In the movies, people who snub are snobs who get their comeuppance, but that happens rarely in real life. That is probably because of the social risks for anybody who tries to react to their perception of being snubbed. They could come off as petty, self-involved, ungracious, or perhaps even emotionally disturbed, to bring it up at all, especially if they have no proof the exclusion is deliberate.
But what if you don’t have to bring it up at all; what if there are people primed to do it for you?
When the Tony nominations were announced early Tuesday morning, 30 of the 37 eligible Broadway shows had received at least one. That means seven shows had received none. Four of the shows had already closed. Within hours, two of the remaining three, Seminar and Magic/Bird, announced they were closing by the end of the month.
Reaction was swift and ferocious.
Christopher Hendrix (@thechrishendrix): Please tell me that I am not the only person infuriated by this year’s Tony Award nominations? (No nominations for) Chinglish?
Nella Vera ( @spinstripes ): No Ricky (Martin)? Tony Awards, you are dead to me
Allison M. (@thatgirlallison): Oh my god! Seminar was snubbed. Is this (Seminar playwright Theresa) Rebeck’s punishment for (creating the TV series) Smash?
Michael Musto wrote an entire column: Who Got Snubbed By The Tony Nominations? listing 16 specific people or shows (e.g. “Alan Rickman for Seminar, Stacy Keach for Other Desert Cities, and Hugh Dancy for Venus in Fur!”) and ending “and lots of others.”
The only theater person I caught publicly reacting to being directly snubbed by the Tonys was Ken Davenport, lead producer of “Godspell,” which received no nominations – and he phrased his annoyance in terms of the harm done to other people, not himself: “I’m confused, concerned, and yeah, a little bit angry. Nope, scratch that, a whole lot angry. The creative team and the incredible cast on that stage deserved some recognition for the work they’ve done. And I’m disappointed that the tremendous number of people that supported that show won’t be able to root for it on Tony Night…”
At least one wag was sly in his use of the word snub. Alex Jensen ( @jensen11us): I have been snubbed by the Tony awards for my performance as ‘bored audience member’ in ‘Nice Work If You Can Get It” (which received 10 nominations.)
I had agreed to an interview with Jeff Schwartz of the theater review aggregation site Curtain Critic, and he asked me who were the three nominated performers I was most rooting to win at the Tony Awards ceremony on June 10th.
I tried to reply diplomatically — “I’d like to see for best actress in a play a tie between Nina Arianda, Stockard Channing and Linda Lavin,” but this of course winds up snubbing the other two actresses nominated in the category; what can you do?
“Are there any snubs from the nominations you’re particularly upset about?” Jeff asked me.
Keeping in mind the admonition the day before, I replied carefully: “Inexplicable omissions that read like snubs include the shut-out of Chinglish; The Lyons being nominated only for Linda Lavin…Stacy Keach in Other Desert Cities; Finn Wittrock, who played Happy in Death of A Salesman.”
The 22 members of this year’s Tony nominating committee are serious, talented members of the theatrical community, designers, directors, a retired critic, actors, writers, educators. This is not a committee dominated by commercial interests with their own agendas. (That comes later, with the Tony voters.) The problem they face is endemic to Broadway: There are always way more performers and “creatives” that are deserving of recognition than there are slots in which to recognize them.
Some people’s work may by consensus be clearly superior in quality to everyone else’s in a given season; some might be clearly inferior. But the majority are somewhere in-between, and for them, it is not really possible to apply some kind of objective measure of quality, despite all the high-minded talk to the contrary. Personal taste and politics and a whole array of other factors inevitably come into play.
Let’s take the example of Bernadette Peters, who was the only one of the four leads in Follies who was not nominated for her role. I personally do not think she gave one of her best performances in “Follies” (she was much better in “A Little Night Music,” for example.) In addition, during her career, Bernadette Peters has been nominated for seven Tonys, and won two of them. She’s getting the Isabelle Stevenson Tony this year. Is it really such an outrageous snub that the slot be given to somebody else who has never been nominated for a Tony before – say, Laura Osnes of “Bonnie & Clyde”?
The arguments over snubs in Tony nominations seem exasperatingly petty. It is the one day a year that even the average theatergoer sounds worse than the most statistic-obsessed baseball fan. At one point, I found myself arguing the merits of Stacy Keach this way: Frank Langella, nominated for lead actor in a play for the revival of that dog of a play “Man and Boy,” has had five previous Tony nominations, and has won three times! Stacy Keach, one of the central figures in the quintet of performers in “Other Desert Cities” was only nominated for a Tony once before in his career.
But aren’t we living in an era of snubs? Certainly the 17 million or so “permanently” unemployed or underemployed Americans feel snubbed every day. At a time of dashed hope and diminished opportunities, don’t snubs become more routine? And aren’t they easier now that so much social interaction is in social media? Once I started thinking about it, I realized with a jolt that snubbing seems to be a major theme on Broadway these days; I am not talking about the Tony nominations but about the content of the shows themselves: In Death of A Salesman, isn’t Willy Loman snubbed by the upstart of a boss, the son of the man who hired Willy decades before? In “A Streetcar Named Desire,” isn’t Blanche DuBois staying at her sister’s home in New Orleans because she was snubbed in her hometown? Weren’t the Wyeths of “Other Desert Cities”snubbed for a time by their rich Republican friends because of their errant son? Isn’t Clybourne Park at least in part about a neighborhood of white residents snubbing a black family – and of the previous owners being snubbed as well?
Two days after the Tony nominations, the Huffington Post, after apparently asking for suggestions on Twitter, ran a story about “10 Theater Tweeters To Know Right Now.” I was not one of them. My snubber (if he is my snubber) was. Was that a snub?
For up-to-the-minute New York theater news, views and reviews, follow Jonathan Mandell on his Twitter feed at @NewYorkTheater despite the Huffington Post’s snub.
Broadway World has designated @NewYorkTheater as one of the top theater Twitter feeds: “Talk about a tweeter who knows his Broadway stuff! From news to conversation-starters to commentary, he’s got it all.”
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