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The 87th Annual Drama League Awards To Honor Iris Smith, Liesl Tommy, Richard & Demi Weitz, And More

Lee Fryd

Husband and wife theatrical powerhouse team Bonnie Comley and Stewart Lane at the Hat Lunch. (Photo: Annie Watt)

The theater didn't die last year. It just went digital, streaming into our living rooms and soothing our souls. And so The 87th Annual Drama League Awards will stream their show, this Friday, May 21, 2021 (7:00PM). It will feature nominee clips and appearances by Gloria, Emilio & Emily Estefan and the evening's honorees Iris Smith, Liesl Tommy, Richard & Demi Weitz, and more.

We found out about it at the Central Park Conservancy Hat Luncheon, over a glass — or two — of rosé at Broadway League Vice President (and probable next President) Bonnie Comley and Stewart Lane's table. They're the Tony Award winning Broadway producers, authors, philanthropists and co-owners of the Palace Theater who founded BroadwayHD, which began streaming plays six years ago.

BroadwayHD was an uphill licensing sell for Bonnie and Stew eight years ago when they conceived it. "People were afraid a digital version would ruin ticket sales," Comley remembers. "But, it brought a whole generation into the tent. People who saw the filmed Hamilton, for example, now want to see it live. Tickets are pricey. So, the more familiar audiences become with Sondheim or Vogel, the more likely they are to sample their work on the Great White Way." After the past year, attitudes have so changed, Comley said, that a filmed version of the Broadway musical Diana will begin streaming on Netflix two months before it resumes on Broadway.

On our other side was the Executive Director of the Drama League, Bevin Ross. She told us about two experimental theater projects: A Thousand Ways (Part One) Created by 600 HIGHWAYMEN, the experimental phone call theatrical happening that brought people together to share personal stories anonymously, and The Seven Deadly Sins, a show in Florida that took place on the street, behind store front windows, which will come to Manhattan. "All of our nominated shows were available to Drama League members online this year," Ross told us. "It was a moment where everyone, all over the world could experience the work. I was always taught theater was the connection between actor and audience. Where and how that happens is being redefined."

"The quarantine opened the floodgates of what theater can be," Comley continued. "There were even book club-like discussions online. Moving forward, the talk-backs that historically kept audiences in the theater after a long night, will probably move online."

The League, 110 years old, is the first to embrace this new theater with awards. "The Drama League is a service organization and artistic hub for mid to early career directors," Comley explained. "It matches them with mentors, gives them actual production experience and supports them for their entire careers. When they achieve success, they look to the League to mentor and pay it forward. It's a huge, one of a kind program."

"Everyone in the theater lives as freelancers, job-to job, hand-to-mouth, without a safety net. During the theater shutdown, the Drama League is the first place directors called for help," Comley said. "They had no one else."

"Our Directors Emergency Relief Fund raised about $40,000 that we put directly into their pockets, in micro grants, to put food on their tables and keep their homes," Ross added. "And we kept our fellowship grants going."

Tickets for non-members start at $15 with additional VIP upgrades, Virtual Tables, Tribute Ads, and sponsorship packages available.

DirectorFest is a multi-week director-focused festival featuring the digitally captured works of the Drama League's four New York Directing Fellows that will take place June 7th-23rd. RSVP for an all-access pass at directorfest.org.

For more information: www.dramaleague.org.

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