by Mo Brady
Is a Tony Award for Best Ensemble in a Play or Musical necessary? I don’t think so. Great ensembles have been contributing to the success of musicals since Showboat.
But would a Tony Award for Best Ensemble go a long way in the fight for respect for ensembles? You bet your bottom dollar it would.
Nobody is saying that Ensemblists are less talented or deserving of recognition. I see that. But what a Best Ensemble Award would do is bring legitimacy to Ensemblist work. Ensemble actors are less recognized than their principal counterparts - by the union, by many producers, by most theatre fans and almost all theatrical press. By celebrating and lifting up these kind of artists, we would be telling audiences, now and in the future, that the ensemble spirit is vital to theatrical storytelling.
Of course, the Tony Award is not the end-all, be-all of the theatre industry and community. There are lots of incredible artists working in New York and across the country that will never be eligible for a Tony. But is the Tony Award our industry’s highest honor? Undisputedly. There’s not a greater award for theatre artists in this country than a Tony Award. And ensemble actors deserve a piece of this pie.
While Come From Away didn’t win the Tony Award for Best Musical, did its ensemble deserve to be celebrated for their incredible collaborative performance? Yup. When Newsies didn’t win the Tony Award for Best Musical, did the ensemble deserve to be singled out for their incredible artistry and athleticism? Uh huh.
Sure, I have lots of questions about this campaign: Is this one of the most important things for the union to be fighting for right now? Probably not. Do they need to be fighting for the distinction between a chorus in an ensemble? I’m not sure.
But what am sure of is this: a Tony Award for Best Ensemble would bring esteem to Broadway ensemble work. And that esteem would trickle down from New York to regional theatres to colleges to high schools to youth theatres. If you want to change a culture to appreciate more kinds of performers than those above the title, we got to start at the top.