The Playgoer: And the Tony goes to...the British taxpayer!

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Friday, May 11, 2007

And the Tony goes to...the British taxpayer!

New York Mag's Jeremy McCarter takes his case overseas to the Guardian, congratulating the UK on their continued domination over the American theatre's award seasons:

We've just entered awards season here, and the lucky few are already pulling away from the jilted many. On Monday night, the New York Drama Critics' Circle gave its Best Play prize to Lincoln Center's production of Tom Stoppard's The Coast ofUtopia. The same night, the Lucille Lortel Awards, which honor the best of Off-Broadway, gave the Outstanding Play award to the Public Theater's production of David Hare's Stuff Happens. Last year's awards proved similarly lopsided, as The History Boys took home the Best Play award from the Drama Critics Circle, then cleaned up at
the Tonys

These trophy magnets share a few obvious traits, the most important of which is that all three began life in London - specifically, at the National Theatre. I've long admired Nicholas Hytner's savvy leadership of the institution, and cravenly envied his revenues. Around 40% of the NT's budget comes from Arts Council grants, a number that strikes New Yorkers as completely preposterous. (By contrast, our three biggest nonprofit theaters - Lincoln Center, the Roundabout and Manhattan Theater Club - derive 0.5-1.2% of their budgets from government sources.) Thanks to plays such as this trio from the National, and Frost/Nixon from the Donmar Warehouse (which doesn't get as much support as the NT, but would still be the envy of many an American producer), a direct line runs from your wallet to award podiums all over Manhattan.

One hates to get nationalistic about such things as artistic quality. And I admit to being as big a theatrical anglophile as any of our enablers here. But what are awards good for if not celebrating the contributions of your own artistic community?

One more astute (and sobering) observation of McCarter's:
It's often said that Arts Council support gives British playwrights the right to fail. That's true, but what really counts is that it gives them the right to fail spectacularly. Budget-conscious Americans, largely in thrall to stories about family squabbles, rarely attempt this kind of expansive public-minded play. Coram Boy and The Coast of Utopia have larger casts (40 and 44 actors, respectively) than every other straight play on Broadway combined (39) - if you don't count Inherit the Wind.

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