As the Drama Desk Awards telecast draws near (Sunday, May 14, at 9:00pm, broadcast live on New York 1), this most inclusive of all theatrical awards becomes the focus of the New York theater community. Drama Desk members are the critics, journalists, and editors who cover New York theater, and they make no distinction in their awards between Broadway and Off-Broadway. Notable productions from Off-Off Broadway also receive consideration under the organization's big umbrella. Good work is good work wherever it may be found.
We talked with a great many of this year's nominees at a party generously thrown in their honor by The Palm on West 50th Street. At that rare get-together of theater artists and theater writers, a number of the nominees commented upon the unique distinction of a Drama Desk nomination. Boyd Gaines, a nominee for Outstanding Actor in a Musical for his work in Contact said, "It's a completely different body of nominators and voters than the Tonys. These are the critics. After they chew you up, it's good to get a pat on the back."
The Case for the Drama Desk Awards
David Sheward, president of the Drama Desk and one of the seven members of the nominating committee, provided a quick history lesson about how those "pats on the back" came into being. "Though the Drama Desk was founded in 1949," said Sheward, "awards were first given in 1955 for Off-Broadway because, at that time, those plays did not receive wide recognition. In the early 1970s, a decision was made to include Broadway and treat all shows equally, because the quality of Off-Broadway productions had equalized with the bigger shows."
Frank Scheck, Hollywood Reporter critic and chairman of the Drama Desk nominating committee, went a step further, calling the DDs "the only relevant theatrical awards, precisely because of their inclusiveness. The Tonys don't consider 90 percent of what goes on in this town, and are clearly a relic of the past. And the Obies don't consider the quality theater that does occur on Broadway." [Full disclosure: One of the authors of this piece, Barbara Siegel of TheaterMania, was among the seven members of the 2000 Drama Desk nominating committee.]