Broadway Update: Drama Desk Rules Change; Mario Fratti Dies
By: David Sheward
April 19, 2023: The Drama Desk Awards are joining the Outer Critics Circle, the Lortels and the Independent Spirit Awards in eliminating gender distinction in their performance categories. Several regional theatre awards such as the Helen Hayes Awards in Washington, DC, the Barrymores in Philadelphia, and the Jeffs in Chicago have also gone gender-neutral. The Drama Desk is an organization of approximately 100 New York-based theater critics, reporters and editors which presents the only theater awards honoring work on, Off- and Off-Off-Broadway equally in multiple categories. (Full disclosure: the author is a Drama Desk member and former President). In a recent email, the DD board informed its members that male and female distinctions for acting awards would be taken away. Previously there were eight acting categories (four each for plays and musicals) plus one for solo performance which was always gender-neutral. In addition to the solo category, there will now be four acting slots–Outstanding Lead and Featured Performance in a Play and Outstanding Lead and Featured Performance in a Musical. There will be two winners in each category, so the number of acting awardees will remain the same.
There was no reason given to members for the switch, but presumably the change was made because of the increased number of non-binary and non-traditional gender conforming performers. Earlier this season, Justin David Sullivan, who plays May in & Juliet, is trans non-binary and uses the pronouns he, she and they, withdrew from consideration for the Tony Awards because of their division along gender lines. “I felt I had no choice but to abstain from being considered for a nomination this season,” Sullivan said in a statement. “I hope that award shows across the industry will expand their reach to be able to honor and award people of all gender identities.”
J. Harrison Ghee, who plays Jerry/Daphne in the new musical version of Some Like It Hot, is also non-binary and will be considered for Best Leading Actor in a Musical for the Tonys. Last season, another non-binary performer Asia Kate Dillon who played Malcolm in the Daniel Craig-Ruth Negga production of Macbeth, asked not to be considered for Tony eligibility.
Drama Desk nominations are chosen by a Nominating Committee, this year consisting of: Martha Wade Steketee (Chair; freelance: UrbanExcavations.com); Linda Armstrong (New York Amsterdam News); Daniel Dinero (Theatre is Easy); Peter Filichia (Broadway Radio); Kenji Fujishima (freelance: Theatermania); Margaret Hall (Playbill); and Charles Wright (ex officio).
The Drama Desk nominations will be announced on April 27. Information on specific dates for the winners’ announcement and a ceremony for the awards will be forthcoming.
This is not the first time the DDs have been non-gender specific. From 1955-1968, the Drama Desks, then known as the Vernon Rice Awards, presented accolades for Off-Broadway distinguished performances without specifying gender, like the Obies. The first winner was Nancy Wickwire for The Way of the World and The White Devil.
In 1968-69, the awards expanded to include on and Off-Broadway in all categories and 20 performers (15 men including James Earl Jones, Al Pacino and James Coco and 5 women including Jane Alexander, Marian Mercer and Bernadette Peters) won awards for Outstanding Performances with no reference to gender. There were no nominees, just announced winners.
This changed in 1974-75 when the DD switched to gender-separated categories with nominees and winners and that’s the way it’s been ever since. Until now.
A sad note: Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle member Mario Fratti, 95, passed away on April 15. In addition to serving as theater critic for both American and Italian publications including American Oggi, NJ Voice, Sipario, Ridotto, and Musical (Milano), Mario authored over 100 plays and is probably best known for his work on Nine, the musical version of Federico Fellini’s classic film 8 1/2 which won five 1982 Tony Awards including Best Musical and eight Drama Desk Awards. The 2003 Roundabout Theatre Company revival won two Tonys. Mario was Vice-President of the Outer Critics Circle and served on its Executive Committee for over two decades. He was also University Professor of Literature at Columbia University and Hunter College.
2022-23 and 2023-24 Broadway/Off-Broadway Schedule
April 19–Peter Pan Goes Wrong (Barrymore)
April 20–The Thanksgiving Play (Second Stage/Hayes)
April 23–Prime Facie (Golden)
April 24–Good Night, Oscar (Belasco)
April 25–Summer, 1976 (MTC/Samuel J. Friedman)
April 25–Outer Critics Circle nominations announced
April 25–Drama League Award nominations announced (NY Public Library)
April 26–New York, New York (St. James)
April 27–Drama Desk nominations announced
April 27–The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window (James Earl Jones)
April 29–Fuenta Ovejuna (TFANA/Polonsky Shakespeare Center)
May 2–Tony Award Nominations Announced
May 4–Primary Trust (Roundabout/Laura Pels) (previews begin; opening TBA)
May 4–shadow/land (Public Theater)
May 7–Lortel Awards (NYU Skirball Center)
May 16–King James (MTC/City Center Stage I)
May 16–Outer Critics Winners announced
May 19–Drama League Awards (Ziegfeld Ballroom)
May 25–Outer Critics Circle Awards (Bruno Walter Auditorium/Lincoln Center Library)
May 30–Grey House (Lyceum)
May–Wet Brain (Playwrights Horizons)
June 5–Days of Wine and Roses (Atlantic Theatre Company)
June 11–Tony Awards (United Palace)
June 22–Once Upon a One More Time (Marquis)
June 28–Hamlet (Delacorte/Shakespeare in the Park)
July 9–Orpheus Descending (TFANA/Polonsky Shakespeare Center)
July 20–Here Lies Love (Broadway)
July 20–Flex (Mitzi Newhouse/LCT)
July 24–The Cottage (Hayes)
Aug. 3–Back to the Future (Marquis)
Sept. 19–Merrily We Roll Along (begins previews; opening TBA) (Hudson)
September–Here We Are (The Shed Griffin Theater)
September–The Refuge Plays (Roundabout/NYTW/Laura Pels)
October–I Need That (Roundabout/AA)
I Can Get It for You Wholesale (CSC)
Poor Yella Rednecks (MTC/City Center Stage II)
Jonah (Roundabout/Laura Pels)
Wine in the Wilderness (CSC)
2024 and Beyond
Game of Thrones, The Great Gatsby, Frida, the Musical, High Noon, The Mousetrap
Future–Ain’t Supposed to Die a Natural Death; Black Orpheus; BOOP! The Betty Boop Musical; Come Fall in Love–The DDLJ Musical; The Devil Wears Prada; Ella: An American Miracle; Everybody’s Talking About Jamie; The Griswolds’ Broadway Vacation; Harmony; I Need That; Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat; The Karate Kid; La La Land; Lempicka; Our Town; Pal Joey; Rear Window; The Nanny; The Normal Heart/The Destiny of Me; The Secret Garden; Sing Street; Soul Train; What a Wonderful World; The Who’s Tommy; The Wiz; Working Girl