By Scott Vogel
It's 8:35 on the morning of May 8, and an announcement from the Web site is imminent. At the click of a mouse, an audio player pops onto the screen and with it the sound of crackling microphones, as adjustments to a podium are made.
"Good morning, I'm the audiovisual director and also Jed Bernstein," says the president of the League of American Theaters and Producers, his digitized voice careering through cyberspace to welcome a worldwide audience to the Tony Awards nominations ceremony at Sardi's.
Despite the occasional glitch, his words come in loud and clear at the start of the annual press conference to announce the nominees. Now that the Tonys have finally staked their claim to a piece of the virtual frontier, members of the public can attend this yearly ritual, at least via the Internet.
Built and sponsored by I.B.M., the Web site, at www. tonys.org has been up and running for more than two weeks now, and though still in its infancy, the address has the potential to become a second home for theater addicts, heavily stocked as it is with the kinds of obscure facts once confined to the dustier tomes in the theater section of the local library.
As a result, Tonys.org is somewhat intimidating at first; it's a bit like the theater experience of sitting next to one of those know-it alls who saw the Josie Hogans of Colleen, Kate and Cherry, and has no doubt as to who was the most misbegotten. ("Oh, you don't know who beat Tallulah Bankhead for best actress in 1961?") But the site also contains audio coverage of the annual nominees' luncheon, an interview with the Tony Awards host this year, Rosie O'Donnell, biographies of some nominees and ballots, similar to those used by Tony voters, that can be downloaded.
While historical materials and high-resolution archival photographs, dating back to the start of the Tony ceremonies in 1947, are the stars of the show, Web surfers needn't be content with learning that Tony-winning actors once received a scroll and a cigarette lighter. (The familiar medallion wasn't designed until 1949.) They can also participate in live chats with some of this year's nominees, download excerpts from the scripts of current Broadway plays and take part in various online polls.
"My feeling is that for theater fans it's the one chance to get a glimpse of the theater world separate from what you see in a Broadway theater," said Jennifer Tattenbaum, the Internet manager for Tonys.org. "With television and movies, all you have to do is turn on the news to get a sense of what's behind the scenes. That's not the case in theater."
Call it "Entertainment Tonight" meets the Great White Way.
Another of the site's features, "Throwing a Tony Party?," allows theater buffs to register their own parties online and describe in detail the festivities that will be taking place. In this way, potential partygoers can learn of soirees both large (an Atlanta party will be held at the city's Fabulous Fox Theater) and small, and perhaps make plans to attend. Displaced Broadway babies in, say, Dubuque will never again wonder where to huddle together to watch the ceremonies.
As for the June 4 telecast itself, which begins at 8 p.m. on PBS and continues at 9 p.m. on CBS, viewers may well find themselves shuttling back and forth from computer to television screen. Cameras ("Tonycams") at Radio City Music Hall, where the awards take place, will broadcast onto the Internet (and perhaps unwittingly provide a window into the organized chaos of live television). And should the musical interruption of acceptance speeches become necessary, all winners will have the opportunity to place the full text of their thank-you's online.
While the May 5 debut of Tonys.org involved some fanfare, what will induce users to log on once the awards excitement has subsided.
"Certainly the archive is always going to be accessible," said Edgar Dobie, the manager aging producer of the Tony Awards. But beyond that, the site's future is still evolving. Then again, the Web site's launch came just 24 hours after another important date on the theatrical calendar.
"May 4 was officially the start of the next Tony season," Mr. Dobie said. "So the cycle starts over again."
NY Times: Theatrical Tradition In the Digital Domain Arts & Leisure
Publication: New York Times
By Scott Vogel