I must confess that I harbor what I consider to be a healthy cynicism surrounding awards shows in the entertainment industry. Who in their right minds doesn’t? The commercialism and one percenter-ness of the awards can be alienating. But this year, the one percent looked a lot more diverse and a lot more accessible than it perhaps ever has. As I watched the show, with my cast here in Florida (about as far away from the Tonys as one could possibly be), I could not help but be swept away by it—its joy, its progressiveness, and all those smiley singing faces.
First let’s talk about the diversity, both of the broadcast itself as well as of the honorees. An openly gay host presided over a show in which women took both directing awards, four actors of color received awards, and shows with multi racial casts and queer characters were represented all night. Well done, Tonys.
But the other thing that got me was a recurring theme that ran throughout the awards: the child who dreams of a life in the theater. It was there in the opening number, when Neil Patrick Harris proclaimed, “We were that kid.” Throughout the night the broadcast kept reminding us of that original dream, that original joy, that motivates most people to make theater.
The truth is, most theater artists are those who are stubborn enough to cling to a dream they first had when they were five. Who at age 21 or 30 thinks for the first time, “gee I’d like to be an actor/playwright/director, that seems like a realistic and profitable life choice?” I’m sure there are some who do, but for most of us its only the sort of impractical dream that a child has, a dream that somehow, some of us still manage to hold on to, and in that lies much of its beauty.
The show frequently alluded to the hardships that a life in the theater entails—the Sisyphean effort that is required to “make it.” It is a life of intermittent reinforcement: one moment one is given enough encouragement, a good enough job, a step enough forward to have hope; the next moment one faces a looming void of instability, unpredictability and unemployment. But the evening saluted a group of artists whose dreams arose when they didn’t know better, and persisted when they did. And they should be saluted, for they are fighting to live a life in pursuit of an understanding and expression of our world. They are fighting to participate in an art that fosters understanding and tolerance. They are dreaming the dreams of children and putting their hearts on stage. Well done, dreamers.