As the New York 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. However, since we center our coverage on New York, we wanted to give our readers a look at why other great theatre cities choose to recognize ensembles with awards. Today, we hear from Tahirih Vejdani, a Toronto actor about the benefits of the Dora Awards' Outstanding Performance - Ensemble award.
"I had the honour this past year to serve as a Juror for the Doras in Toronto. I watched and assessed over 30 productions in the categories of Opera, Musical Theatre, and Touring. I then got to nominate them on the extraordinary work these colleagues have accomplished. I can't officially speak about those productions as a juror for the Dora’s but I can talk about how the Dora's do have a category that is awarded to Best Ensemble. I find it surprising that the Tony's, an award that has been in existence longer than the Dora's, do not even have an award for Best Ensemble. As someone who has spent a lot of her professional life in the ensemble, I know how hard ensembles work to create a seamless environment for the main action. Ensembles truly deserve some form of recognition. Especially shows that are 100% ensemble-based where members play so many roles it’s hard to isolate a leading lady or leading man. Yes, the show that wins best Musical or best Play obviously acknowledges that overall cohesion of the artistic team and performers, but it sometimes doesn’t do justice to acknowledge the hard work of the ensemble. A separate award, however, would do that. The Tony’s do have Best Performance by Actor/Actress in a Featured Role, which recognizes those supporting performers. But again, that’s just one supporting performer from the ensemble."
"I’m currently in the ensembles of HMS Pinafore and Treasure Island at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival this season and I am just in awe of my fellow ensemble performers here. Kudos to our director Mitchell Cushman of Treasure Island for not only developing a play that takes the audience, young and old, on an epic journey but also for creating and emphasizing from day one the importance of having a strong and invested ensemble. This show is full of an amazing team of actors who can fight, act on silks, repel from a catwalk, and carry a tune. Aside from my own shows, I do have to mention and sing the praises of my fellow company members who are in Guys and Dolls. The leads are amazing, but the ensemble? Seamless and stunning. The guys especially. Their Crap Shooters sequence is impressive and meticulous and just knowing the amount of work they have put in these last four months during rehearsals and previews is mindblowing. If that production was on Broadway right now, it would definitely be nominated for Best Choreography by Donna Feore. But that choreo would not be what it is if it wasn’t for the amazing ensemble able to execute the choreographer's vision."
"Having a Best Ensemble award would also acknowledge the insane amount of work these ensembles have to do behind the scenes in prep as swings and understudies. Here in Stratford, sometimes swings and understudies end up going on even before their understudy run. I can only assume the same for Broadway, and odds are that some of those jurors have been in the audience when an understudy or swing goes on. The Ensemble award could serve as a way to also recognize those unsung heroes. "
"As with the award for Sound Design that got reinstated, hopefully there is room for the committee to take into consideration creating a Best Ensemble award. And while they are at it, maybe they could consider reinstating the award for Best Conductor and Musical Director? Either way, I’m looking forward to watching the Tony Awards this Sunday evening at The Musical Stage Company’s Tony viewing party where I’m sure we will all be rooting for our fellow Canadians and Come From Away!"