The Playgoer: Head of Pulitzer Jury "Ticked Off" about Drama Award

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Monday, April 12, 2010

Head of Pulitzer Jury "Ticked Off" about Drama Award

Charles McNulty goes public re: the Pulitzer Surprise:

Buried in Monday's announcement of the 2010 Pulitzer winners was the news that the board that, in effect, decides these matters had been up to its old tricks with the drama award. In honoring "Next to Normal," Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey's musical about a household grappling with a mother's mental illness, the mandarins at Columbia University's journalism school, where the prizes are administrated, ignored the advice of its drama jury in favor of its own sentiments.

It's a familiar story, but as chair of this year's jury [...] I can't help being ticked off. Two points, in particular, rankle: the blinkered New York mentality and the failure to appreciate new directions in playwriting. The board had an opportunity to correct these long-standing shortcomings, and it blew it.

In an era in which important new dramatic works rarely get their start in New York, the board's geographical myopia, a vision of the American theater that starts in Times Square and ends just a short taxi ride away is especially disheartening. Does anyone really believe that "Next to Normal" would have been chosen had it been submitted when it was at Arena Stage in Washington, D.C.?
Read on.

Among the nuggets of info: Pulitzer Board does get a majority up-or-down vote on the final prize for each category, and it just so happens the Clintons were among that "crazy" musical's biggest fans.


Anonymous said...

My guess is not so much that the Pulitzer board in New York centric per se, but (as Charlie implies) that they don't know how to READ plays and imagine them in production, so they favor works they have SEEN -- and thus works that have played in NYC. What would happen if they considered some pieces of music based only on a copy of the score, but had recordings of others. The ones for which they only had scores would never win.
This is not meant to excuse them -- on the contrary.

Unknown said...

To Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey: Don't take this article as something tarnishing what you've done. Everyone can tell you worked hard on this musical and made one of the greatest improvements from try out run to broadway in the theatre business. Not only this, but you wrote a musical that had 0 stars and recouped. Ken Davenport said it was because in order to have a successful MUSICal these days it's important to have good MUSIC. You were able to write an original musical that changed the game for shows written in the future. The fact that you were produced on Broadway doesn't undermine the work you've done, but just speaks to the universality of your story. Take this time to revel and rejoice in the fact that you've won this prestigious award because you've deserved it. Thank you for your original thinking, beautiful words and music. Your show is a wonderful example of a hopeful future for musical theatre. It might not have been done in a small theatre in Seattle, and it might have a OCR, but that doesn't mean it deserves any less credit. Now go open a bottle of champagne.

Anonymous said...

I think McNulty has every right to be annoyed at the governing board for overruling a jury, and if it happens twice in four years, clearly something's wrong with the system. But it's strange that so much of his complaint seems to hinge on the fact that his jury really wanted to reward a new voice in theater but he doesn't acknowledge that that's exactly what this year's award ended up doing.

Also, honestly, I think as much as he complains about New York-centrism in theater, there's also a sort of anti-New York dogmatism among some critics who aren't based in New York. I mean, Next to Normal started in New York, then went to Washington D.C. to fix itself, and then came back to New York. The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity, one of his jury's finalists, is coming to New York next week. What's the difference?

I think the real problem is that this award is decided by a tiny, critic-dominated jury. My hunch is that the three strongest arguers on the panel each end up getting one "put" on the finalists list, which is a bad way to work. I'd feel more inclined to take McNulty's side completely if he said, anywhere in his post, that he felt his jury's finalists were the three best American plays of the season, but he doesn't--he says they're all plays by young writers of diverse backgrounds and sort of implies that the jury wanted to reward someone young rather than someone established. Should the Pulitzer Prize really have any agenda other than rewarding excellence?

Unknown said...

Nothing against "Next to Normal", but I was hoping for a Pulitzer for the "Orphans Home Cycle", which certainly deserved it. This originated at the Hartford Stage.