The 2020 Tony nominations were announced amid a prolonged shutdown of the industry and weeks away from a contentious presidential election.
In turn, many of the nominees reacted with a moment of joy at being recognized for their work, alongside calls for political action, as well as greater equity within the industry and the country. These were joined by pleas for financial support for their fellow industry members who are hurting from the closure of Broadway theaters.
Nominees including “Moulin Rouge!” actor Danny Burstein, “The Inheritance” playwright Matthew López, scenic and costume designer Clint Ramos (a double nominee for his set design of “Slave Play” and costume design for “The Rose Tattoo.”) and “Slave Play” director Robert O’Hara, as well as several of his cast members, underlined the importance of voting in the upcoming election for the sake of the industry as well as racial equality within the U.S.
“I’m honored to be nominated especially for leading a team helmed by black and brown artists,” O’Hara said in a statement. “BIPOC voices are vital to the theater, but also to the ballot box. Please take this opportunity to vote and make sure your voice is heard.”
Several others, including Jake Gyllenhaal, a triple nominee for his acting and producing of “Sea Wall/A Life” as well as his role as a producer on “Slave Play,” spoke to the financial hardships facing industry members by encouraging donations to the Actors Fund, as well as support of the Save Our Stages Act.
“I am deeply honored to be nominated today, but also recognize what an uncertain time this is for the theater world, and the world at large,” Gyllenhaal said in a statement. “So I encourage everyone first to VOTE and then, if you can, donate to The Actors Fund in support of the many amazing people who depend on live theater.”
“I hope that the spotlight on the Tony Awards will illuminate the fact that arts workers everywhere, not just on Broadway, are struggling,” said Karen Olivo, nominated for her role in “Moulin Rouge!” “By all means, let’s celebrate the work of all of these artisans but let us also seek the government mandated financial assistance that will ensure we exist beyond this global pandemic.”
These are not the typical reactions from Tony nominees, but this season has been anything but typical. Broadway theaters have been closed since March 12, and appear due to be closed until fall 2021.
Many of the nominated shows have long since closed, or face an uncertain future as the shutdown continues. The Tony Awards itself still has not set a date for the ceremony.
In addition to the shutdown of theaters and the COVID-19 pandemic, the industry has been grappling with its own racial inequalities. Since the George Flloyd protests, industry members have been pushing theatrical leaders and institutions to become more inclusive and equitable toward those who are Black, indigenous and people of color.
This call was reflected in many of the statements Thursday, as playwrights, actors and more spoke to the need for self-examination.
“The closing of Broadway theatres (indeed almost all American theatres) this year has left us without a vital resource to gather together and examine ourselves and our nation and has reminded us just how important live theatre is to our personal and civil lives,” López said.
“In its absence, I urge everyone in these next three weeks to channel their energies into electing Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. And once theatres do re-open, I urge commercial producers and non-profit companies to listen to the voices of those who have been crying out this year for racial and economic justice in our country, in our cities, and in our arts organizations.”
Katori Hall, the Tony-nominated book writer for “Tina” as well as a producer on the musical, noted that her own musical addresses the issues of racism and sexism within an industry and that the title character had been able to conquer them.
“Being nominated this year is a bittersweet honor. The intermission our industry is experiencing is unprecedented and its impact will undoubtedly be felt for years,” Hall said. “But the curtain being down has allowed many to lift the veil on the pervasive and stubborn roots of racism that still infect our nation. In this dark moment, we are plagued by the virus of COVID-19 and the virus of racism. But both Goliaths can be slain.”