Inspired by the online conversation around Actor's Equity Association's campaign to create new Tony Award categories to recognize performers to in leading roles, Broadway actor Josh Lamon and The Ensemblist's Mo Brady share a candid conversation on the value of such an award.
So, Josh. Tell me: what do you think about this new Equity campaign to create Tony Award categories for Best Ensemble? You’ve been in many Broadway ensembles yourself, and know firsthand how important an ensemble’s contributions can be to a musical. My gut always tells me to champion ensembles in whatever way possible, but I’m not sure I’m 100% behind what Equity is asking for. Do you think that this campaign is worthwhile?
Hi Mo! I actually have pretty mixed feelings about it. I do think the Ensembles/Choruses kick ass and deserve major recognition. But I would rather fight actual fights that would make our workplaces stronger, have better morale and better wages than fight for a trophy that won’t actually benefit the members of the ensemble/chorus.
Let’s start at the top. The Tony Award is a holy grail. It really is. With that said, it is more a marketing tool than anything else. The more wins, the better for every show. I am all about more awards for all the shows as it potentially means better business for all the shows. When people win a best actor or supporting, etc, they get a considerable pay bump for bringing the show new attention. That’s in every principal actors contract.
The ensemble contracts are usually held hostage by something called ‘favored nations’ meaning everyone across the board gets broadway minimum. After taxes, agent/manager fees and union dues you are taking home less than half of your paycheck. Still a living wage. But nobody is getting rich here and it is still a struggle to get by let alone save money.
So yes, they deserve all the awards but they don’t actually reap any of the actual benefits of winning one. Perhaps if they got to actually receive a Tony, that would be fierce and I know just where I would put mine. But most likely there would be one trophy that would go to the Producers office and the ensemble members might get to hold it once.
So what if the ensemble actors didn’t get a pay boost or even a physical trophy? I’d like to believe that just as multiple producers receive a trophy, the full ensemble would receive one. But even if that wasn’t the case, Isn’t it worth get to call yourself a “Tony Award winning actor”? For the many actors who never get to play leading roles on Broadway, I think it’s worth giving them at the highest level of acclaim our industry allows.
I have heard an argument that a Tony could help people ‘get out of the chorus’. To me, that sounds like a giant ‘fuck you’ to all the incredible dancers, singers and artists that LOVE being in the ensemble and make an incredible living doing just that. I have countless friends that love their jobs and aren’t looking to climb up a ladder. I also don’t understand how a Tony that none of us would see monetary rewards or an actual trophy would help anyone get better auditions or principal roles. I’m not saying it isn’t possible, but I’m also being realistic.
I agree that this argument that a Tony Award would “help actors move up from the ensemble” is naive and offensive. Do actors like Frozen’s Jeremy Davis or Hello, Dolly!’s Jenifer Foote need to “move up” after more than a dozen Broadway musicals to each of their credits? Of course not. But they also deserve to be lauded and appreciated at the same level as principal actors like Gavin Creel or Rachel Bay Jones.
I love the Tonys. I love that they are bringing back Sound Design. I think they should also have categories for Musical Direction, Casting, Hair Design and Ensemble. But I don’t care about that fight nearly as much as I care about other issues.
My biggest concern is the non profits on Broadway such as Roundabout, MTC, Lincoln Center and now Second Stage. These nonprofits are on Lort A contracts, not production contracts. Frankly, I don’t know how they have gotten away with this for so long. In the past some shows are strictly on a Lort A and then eventually switch over to Production, which is lovely. The current revival of My Fair Lady is on a Production contract which is fantastic, but for the most part they are considered Lort A. The ensemble gets completely shafted on a Lort A favored nations while the stars of their shows rake in a fortune. As the saying goes, ‘no profit like non profit’. Before you think I am an equity troll under the bridge, I love these companies. They put on great shows and bring great work to NYC. But if you are putting up a Broadway show, put it on a Broadway contract. Not a version of the contract but an actual Production contract.
That is the fight that I think is worth fighting for. That is a stronger contract with better wages.