Each year, the American Theatre Wing bestows Special Tony Awards to a handful of members of the theatre community—typically people who have contributed the landscape of Broadway, but who aren’t eligible within the established competitive categories.
This year, Special Tony Awards go to puppet designer Sonny Tilders for his extraordinary work on King Kong as well as music director, arranger, conductor, and composer Jason Michael Webb, who worked on Choir Boy. “For me, this type of recognition is coming at a time when I really needed it,” Webb says. “This has healed me.”
Isabelle Stevenson Award recipient Judith Light feels the same. “The theatre heals, that’s what the theatre does,” she says, as she is recognized for her advocacy of the LGBTQIA+ communities and her work to fight HIV/AIDS. “I always wanted to make a difference,” she says. “I am inspired by this community. ... I can’t think of anything more glorious to be recognized by my artistic family with an award that speaks to service.”
The two-time Tony winner and now Tony recipient also shared (in the video above) her first-ever theatrical experience writing her own play.
But there are also people who contribute to Broadway, who don’t ever take the stage—or the orchestra pit. Joseph Forbes of Scenic Arts Studios has provided the painted backdrops and set painting for over 1,000 productions since opening his doors over 25 years ago in Newburgh, New York. “For me it's about so many people, theatre is such a cooperative thing. All of this comes from the fact that I've worked with brilliant people on a daily basis.”
Speaking of 25 years, this year marks the silver anniversary of Broadway Inspirational Voices, the choir of Broadway performers founded by Michael McElroy. "What we’ve tried to do is be a support system within the Broadway community,” says McElroy. “We have tried to use the power of music to transform young lives throughout our outreach programs ... so to be recognized at this moment after 25 years it lets us know that what we've been doing matters and that people see the work that we're doing.”
The Tony Awards also recognize FDNY Engine 54, Ladder 4, Battalion 9 for its commitment to keeping Broadway theatres safe, as well as Peter Entin for his years of work as the VP of Theatre Operations for the Shubert Organization.
But contributions to the American theatre don’t only originate in New York. This year’s Regional Theatre Tony Honor goes to TheatreWorks Silicon Valley. "There are hundreds of great regionals all over the country at every possible level,” says TheatreWorks Silicon Valley founder and artistic director Robert Kelley. “We are remarkably proud to represent them all this year. So much theatre gets done in America.”
Hear more from the honorees in the video above.
Videography and video editing by Roberto Araujo.