ON AIR STAR
00:00:00 | 3:02:50

DONATE!

close

FROM THIS EPISODE

This is Anthony Byrnes Opening the Curtain on LA Theater for KCRW.

This week I want to talk about the Tony Awards.

Alright, I can hear you thinking 'what do the Tony Awards have to do with LA? Or for that matter theater?'

Granted . . . but stick with me a moment.

Several weeks ago the Tony Awards decided to stop giving out an award for Sound Design. While there was no official reason given the general sense is that the committee behind the awards considered sound design to be more of a technical craft than an artistic endeavor.

Rightly, sound designers across the nation started raising quite a stink. An online petition was started, emails began flying, the whole deal.

So why should you care?

Well, if you care about theater as an art form this is a big deal. Not because the Tony Awards say anything more about the art form than the Grammy's tell us about music but because they're indicative of a deeper problem.

A short piece in the New York Times, published the day after the decision, began to hint at the problem. To quote that story "Many Tony voters do not know what sound design is or how to assess it."

Let that sink in a moment.

Every play and musical that's up for a Tony Award has a sound designer. You'll see them listed right next to the lighting, set and costume designers - who by the way all still get awards. So why exclude sound?

On the simplest level it comes down to our senses and the profound difference between what we can see and what we can hear.

It's easy to point to a costume design. 'Look rhinestones!' Or that grand entrance staircase on the set or even the moody blue lighting. But when it comes to sound design . . . well there's no place to point - especially when it's good.

We are a culture that privileges the eye, a sense that's so intimately connected with desire and status. We fool ourselves into thinking we understand what we see because well . . . we see it.

But listening . . . is mysterious. There's nothing to hold onto, to touch. When a sound design is truly remarkable it becomes so immersive, so much a part of the world of the play, that in a sense it disappears.

It's easy to understand why the Tony voters don't understand it. But using that as an excuse to not reward it, is like a physics teacher not teaching gravity because 'well, we can't see it and frankly it's really tough to understand'.

Now, if this were just the Tony's - big deal - but this decision speaks to an ignorance about the art form and the potential of theater. By not recognizing and taking the time to understand the more complicated elements of theater - we're limiting what's possible. We've all been to productions where the 'sound design' is little more than the director's mixtape clumsily thrown in at the last minute. Or directors or actors who have no idea how to use and work with a designer. It's all part of the same problem - the same ignorance.

For now, if you care about the theater - there's a great online petition you can sign and next time you're at the theater - close your eyes for a minute. You might be amazed at what you learn.

This is Anthony Byrnes Opening the Curtain on LA Theater for KCRW.

More:
Tony Awards Decision on Sound Design: Getting to the Reversal

Upcoming

View Schedule

New Episodes

Events

View All Events

iTUNES SPOTIFY
AMAZON RDIO
FACEBOOK EMAIL
TWITTER COPY LINK
FACEBOOK TWITTER

Player Embed Code

COPY EMBED