The Playgoer: That Lazy, Lazy Pulitzer Board

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Tuesday, April 13, 2010

That Lazy, Lazy Pulitzer Board

NYT's Patrick Healy's has been doing more reporting on the Pulitzer Drama Prize drama (probably revving up for an article in tomorrow's paper), and reveals just how narrow minded the Board is.  Turns out, that when faced with three jury-recommended plays that they didn't warm to, a bunch of board members went to check out Next to Normal on Broadway--and voted it the prize the next day.

None of the [jury-selected] three plays achieved a majority vote from the board, which is required to win the prize, Mr. Gissler said. Board members then reviewed the jury’s report, which accompanies the three nominees, he said. Of the approximately 70 plays and musicals that had been submitted for Pulitzer consideration, the jury’s report mentioned “Next to Normal” for praise, Mr. Gissler said. He would not say if other shows were mentioned in the jury report as well.

Even though “Next to Normal” was mentioned in the jury report, the show was not among the three nominees put forward by the jury, thereby requiring a three-fourths vote of the Pulitzer board to move “Next to Normal” out of the pool of entries and into contention for the prize.

Mr. Gissler would not say if that vote for “Next to Normal” happened on Thursday or Friday. But board members had the libretto and score of “Next to Normal” for their consideration, and on Thursday night, several members of the board – who were in New York for their final meetings – went to see “Next to Normal” on Broadway at the Booth Theater. Mr. Gissler declined to say how many of the 17 voting board members went to see the show that night. A second person familiar with the board’s deliberations, but who spoke about internal board matters on condition of anonymity, said that “a lot of them” – referring to the board members – went to see “Next to Normal” that night.
I'll have more to say tomorrow.  But for now I just have to ask: does the Board treat all the categories this casually?  And imagine if they did treat any other, more "serious" category like this--and overrule its jury like this?

One thing we learn--it sure does still matter to be on Broadway.


Anonymous said...

I can answer one of your questions: No, the Board does not treat other categories this shoddily. Drama is the only one. This is evident on their own website, which lists winners and finalists. In several of the journalistic categories, the board elected to move finalists from one category to another. For instance, this year's Pulitzer winner for Explanatory Reporting was moved by the board from Investigative Reporting, the category in which is was submitted. But Drama is the only category in which the board selected something that had not been submitted.

Anonymous said...

It happens most in drama, but they have done it in fiction and poetry as well.

Also, in an earlier post, you claim that plays were eligible for the Pulitzer that were not (Red, for example). A play has to have opened by December 31st in the United States. The cut off used to be in March but this was changed several years ago.

George Hunka said...

They have also done it in music.

Brantley has a point in all this -- that the controversy generated here has more to do with the idea of the Pulitzers and its distance from reality. Because this kind of thing has happened before, especially among the arts selections, it appears that a rule change of some kind is in order that would prevent the larger Pulitzer committee from overriding the selections of the arts juries.

If that is not politically expedient or possible, well, then we should point that out, admit it, and move on without getting our panties in a twist. I can't count the number of awards there are out there for the arts -- for theatre, as well as for all the others; and they all seem to be "Annual Montgomery Burns Awards for Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Excellence." Pulitzers no exception.

Anonymous said...

Hunka has a good point. As a young writer myself, I can lament the fact that Diaz didn't win or that McCraney wasn't a finalist -- but the reality is McCraney has been the recipient of more awards and fellowships than I can even COUNT! He's won monetary awards I didn't even know existed; in short -- the acclaim those guys received/will continue to receive may not give them the prestige that Pulitzer gives, but they're probably done better financially than any other young writer I know. So if the Pulitzer process usually chooses the "wrong" winner -- we can at least realize there are other committees out there that are better are rewarding new exciting voices.