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Sound designers urge U-turn on Tony Awards cut

UK association disappointed by decision to remove sound design recognition from US theatre awards.

The Association of Sound Designers (ASD) says it is “disappointed” by the US-based Tony Award Administration Committee’s announcement last week that it plans to remove the categories of Best Sound Design of a Play and Best Sound Design of a Musical from its roster.

According to a report on the ArtsBeat blog for the New York Times, no explanation was given by the Committee following the decision.

However, two members of the Committee, speaking anonymously to the NYTimes, said that the move was driven “largely by three factors: many Tony voters do not know what sound design is or how to assess it; a large number of Tony voters choose not to cast ballots in sound design categories because of this lack of expertise; and some administration committee members believe that sound design is more of a technical craft, rather than a theatrical art form that the Tonys are intended to honour.”

The pair suggested that special Tonys for sound design would be bestowed in the future when committee members, with a greater background and knowledge of the subject, determined a production worthy of recognition.

An online petition, created by veteran sound designer John Gromada, to reinstate the awards had already reached nearly 28,000 names at the time of writing (Monday 16 June 2pm).

Gareth Fry of the ASD told PSNEurope: “Sound design has evolved further since [it was introduced as an award] in 2008 and now is an integral, if not utterly essential, part of every show playing on Broadway. To absent sound designers and their work from the awards is a failure to respect the contribution that sound designers make as core members of a show’s creative team and the artistry that they bring to a show. The suggestion that ”[a] special Tony may be bestowed in the future when a production has extraordinary sound design’ provides little consolation. Marginalising sound design is a profoundly retrograde step.

“It has been reported in the NYTimes that ‘many Tony voters do not know what Sound Design is, or how to assess it’. Tony voters are primarily made up of a wide range of theatre professionals, some directly involved in the creation of shows and some not.

“We would suggest that the panel does not need any more specialist skills to assess sound design than they do the other design categories. We would encourage the panel to seek guidance in assessing sound design from any number of professionals within our industry rather than exclude a large and integral section of the industry’s creative workforce from a well respected and prestigious event.

“We strongly encourage the Tony Awards Administration Committee to reconsider their decision.”

Fellow UK sound designer and ASD member Gareth Owen (pictured) commented: “Reading between the lines it very much seems that the Tony Committee have decided to abolish the Tony Award for Sound Design because they don’t understand what sound designers do and therefore don’t feel qualified to judge them in a competent manner.

“I’m actually quite sympathetic to this as I sometimes find myself in a position where not even the director of the show I’m working on is clear as to exactly what I’m doing and what is and isn’t my responsibility. However, rather than simply retracting the award, surely it would have made more sense for the Tony committee to seek council, look for clarification, simply ask for help?”