As the theatre community finds itself in the middle of Awards Season, The Ensemblist is often asked about the possibility of a Tony Award for Best Ensemble. So we wanted to hear what a Tony Award for ensembles would mean to others. Today, we hear from Broadway Historian and podcast guest Jennifer Ashley Tepper.
"More than half of the people you see on stage in any Broadway musical are not eligible to be Tony Award- nominated."
"Why? Because they do not have a lead or featured role."
"They are the artists of the ensemble, and they make a huge contribution to the quality of their production. They are essential to the very fabric of the show, but because we have no 'Best Ensemble' Tony, they are not formally recognized on Broadway's sparkliest night."
"The argument I hear most often for not having a "Best Ensemble" Tony Award is 'Well, the Best Musical award goes to the show that has the best ensemble. They share in that.'"
"So you think the ensemble is important enough to completely influence who wins the biggest prize of the night? But that they don't deserve their own award?!"
"That can't be right."
"Of course, the Best Musical winner does often have a fantastic ensemble - but if there was a Best Ensemble Tony Award, I doubt the two prizes would always go to the same show. In 2012, the athletic, tireless Newsies might have given the touching Once ensemble a run for their money. The detailed character work by every ensemble member in Urinetown would certainly have given Thoroughly Modern Millie's stunning cast stiff competition in 2002. Hands on a Hardbody may not have snagged a Best Musical nomination in 2013, but everyone in the industry buzzed about how the show deserved an award for its dynamic, heartbreaking ensemble work. And in cases where the entire cast might be ruled an ensemble, such as with The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee in 2005, we would get to see musicals defined by their cooperative artistry given deserved recognition for this."
"How excellent it would be to show that the ensemble is indeed its own element in each production. And how true to the spirit of Broadway it would be to honor the input of the entire group of actors on stage."
"When you think of the Great White Way, of course you think of the stars... but don't you also think of those tap dancing feet belonging to the indefatigable dancers of 42nd Street? Don't you think of the company of Company, the denizens of Baltimore in Hairspray, everyone on the barricade in Les Miserables?"
"Our ensembles are distinct contributors to every Broadway musical."
" A Chorus Line, when Cassie says she'd be proud to be in the chorus, Zach tells her, 'But you're special.'"
"And Cassie says, 'No. We're all special.'"
"It's true. They are."
"And they deserve a 'Best Ensemble' Tony Award for it."