A little late to the party, but never the less, I thoroughly enjoyed the Tony Awards Ceremony which aired on June 10, 2018. During the show, viewers at home were encouraged to send in pictures of themselves as Tony hopefuls to #TonyDreaming. I do not have any pictures of my Tony Hopeful performances so instead, I will use the hashtag as the title for this series of Tony posts.
There were are number of impressions that sank deep with me at the 72nd Tony Awards, from the performance of the hosts, Sara Bareilles and Josh Groban, both of whom I admire; to the numerous successes of The Band’s Visit and the accompanying heartfelt acceptance speeches; the lifetime achievement celebration of my favorite musical composer, Andrew Lloyd Webber; the beautiful performance by the drama department from the Parkland High School in Florida and the presentation made to their teacher; and topping it all off, the celebration of the American Theatre Wing’s 100 years.
I was born with a passion for Theatre. The Tonys did not air in Nigeria when I was growing up, but I have watched every one since moving to the United States and during the time that I worked in the Theatre, it was a wonderful time shared with others in the same profession with the same passion.
Alas, life took me out of the Theatre and into Corporate America, but I have never been far away and the dream is still very much alive #TonyDreaming 😉
Anyway, I say all that to say that even though I was so passionate about the Theatre, I never knew the history of the Tonys and the American Theatre Wing. I mean…I thought TONY was an acronym for something like Theatre of New York?? Hey, it could work!
Shock and outrage!!!
What a delight to know that back in 1917 it was a group of seven suffragettes….yes, WOMEN who founded the Stage Women’s War Relief to organize charitable giving in support of the war effort.
Its founders, led by playwright and director Rachel Crothers, included the actress and playwright Louise Closser Hale and actresses Dorothy Donnelly, Josephine Hull, Minnie Dupree, Elizabeth Tyree and Louise Drew.
This moment in 1917 sealed the fate of the American theatre community, uniting it with a new vision of patriotism, born out of the performing arts. The organization established workrooms for sewing uniforms and other garments (with total output totaling 1,863,645 articles), set up clothing and food collection centers, sold Liberty Bonds, and opened a canteen on Broadway for servicemen. It also presented benefit performances to raise money, including some held in a temporary “Liberty Theater” built outside the New York Public Library. In total, the group raised nearly $7,000,000 for the war effort.
At the beginning of the Second World War in 1939, Crothers reestablished the Stage Women’s War Relief as a branch of the British War Relief Society. The revived organization’s members included Mary Antoinette “Tony” Perry, Helen Hayes, Lynn Fontaine, and Tallulah Bankhead. They began fundraising and organizing clothing donations for European refugees. In 1941, with the entry of the United States into the war, the organization was renamed The American Theatre Wing of the Allied War Relief and shifted its focus to the American war effort.
The Wing went on to establish the Stage Door Canteen which served soldiers through theatrical entertainment. The Wing donated $75,000 dollars to the USO to inaugurate drama as legitimate entertainment for troops overseas while sparking excitement for theatre back home.
When the war ended, American Theatre Wing began to focus on education and the advancement of theatre in service of community. The American Theatre Wing Professional School, founded by Antoinette Perry, was formed.
Antoinette “Tony” Perry passed away in 1946 due to a heart attack one day after her 58th birthday. One year later, an award was eponymously named in honor of her heroic work for the American theatre community, and the first Tony was granted.
Today, the Tony Awards remain the highest honor in American theatre, commanding theatre’s recognition as a timelessly relevant art form for advancing national culture and personal human experience.
Today, I hail the women who began this effort; I hail Antoinette Perry who took it to the next level and I hail everyone who has contributed to continuing this very important effort.
The Arts are essential to our very survival.
Art and Creativity are our very nature, our being!
Yet every year more funds are cut from Art education in America. This is a HUGE mistake and I am ever grateful for all the initiatives that defy this movement and stand strong in the name of the Arts.
The Arts is the truest way in which we can learn to understand each other.
Whether you are singing a song in a language other than your own, portraying a character that is completely different than yourself, or reading a book which takes you into a world otherwise unknown to you.
The purpose of The Woman Hood to promote understanding between women of different cultures, backgrounds and experiences and I now find that The American Theatre Wing (founded by women) “has spent a century using theatre to advance human experience, empathy and cultural growth”….the same darned thing! I love it!!!
And I am thinking we are on the right track here!
Keep Art Alive and Be Inspired!
Information source: American Theatre Wing History