Earlier this afternoon, it was brought to my attention that the Theatre World Awards is facing some financial difficulties this season. In an exclusive item on Playbill, the committee discussed the precarious nature of the not-for-profit organization’s future, and that they are in the middle of a fund raising drive to keep the establishment afloat. This particular award, given for notable debuts and breakthrough performances, is the oldest award given for NY theatre, both on and off Broadway.
John Willis, along with Daniel Blum and Norman McDonald, established the award during the 1944-45 season. Mr. Willis, now 93, is still active with the Theatre World committee and is still very much the heart and soul of the organization. Each year, winners talk with great love and pride about Mr. Willis, who continues to send each and every living recipient a card on his or her birthday.
It’s imperative to maintain the award, with its rich history and legacy. The list of winner is immense. Just some of the recipients include: Paul Newman, Marlon Brando, James Earl Jones, Patricia Neal, Audrey Hepburn, Richard Burton, Rosemary Harris, Janet McTeer, Michael Douglas, Laura Linney, Alec Baldwin, Jane Fonda, Zoe Caldwell, Audra McDonald, Bernadette Peters, Cynthia Nixon, Annette Bening, and so on and so forth. (Here’s a complete list of the winners by year).
I first attended the Theatre World Awards in 2004, and have made it a point to return ever since. There is something incredibly special about the afternoon. Falling in the middle of the awards season, this particular ceremony allows the actors a chance to breathe. Of all the ceremonies that happen in May and June, this is best exemplification of community in the NY theatre district. Even the Tony Awards fall short of the sense of family and tradition found here. Every year there are performances by formers, often recreating numbers from the shows for which they won. But the really classy touch comes in the presentations themselves. Only winners of the award are allowed to present to the actors; a sort of passing of the torch. The afternoon turns into a relaxed, off-the-cuff, moving and funny experience that can best be described as loving. Attending the ceremony is the highlight of my season.
Due to the nature of the economy, and rising costs for putting the annual ceremony, hosted by my pal Peter Filichia, the Theatre World’s future appears to be in jeopardy. The good news is that the 2010 event will go on as scheduled on June 8 at a venue to be determined. However, it doesn’t mean that they are out of the woods quite yet, and right now they need the help of those in and around the theatre community.
The organization’s statement to Playbill was as follows:
“As recently as early April, we had serious concerns as to whether this year’s Theatre World Awards ceremony would take place. In the past, the Theatre World Awards organization has relied almost entirely upon the founder John Willis and donations from former winners. With rising costs and the downturn in the economy, we now have begun an outreach to the theatre community for support and are planning our first major fundraising event for this fall (as well as seeking corporate and private sponsorship).
“While exploring alternative venues outside the Broadway theatre district, we have implemented cost-cutting measures and look forward to making an announcement soon about the venue of this year’s ceremony.”
The goal is “to create an endowment to ensure that the recognition of important new performers continues into perpetuity.” Currently, a mailing signed by winners Meryl Streep and (her daughter) Mamie Gummer has gone out seeking financial support offering donors the chance to attend the awards ceremony and after party.
To make a 100% tax deductible donation to the Theatre World Awards, you can do so by clicking here. Or you can snail mail it to:
The Theatre World Awards, Inc.
P.O. Box 246
Radio City Station
New York, NY 10101-0246