[A full listing of the 2019-2020 Drama Desk nominations appears here and here (as PDF) — the product of 11 months of effort, given with love for the art form and the seven awards nominators for each other.]

In celebration of its 65-year legacy, the Drama Desk Awards is debuting a new statuette, to be formally presented at the annual ceremony on Sunday, May 31, 2020.

The 2019-2020 Broadway (and Off- and Off-Off Broadway) theater season in New York started off with a bang. From the late April offerings in small venues such as a one-man show at the Soho Playhouse (“The Day I Became Black”) and a haunting INTAR production (“Then They Forgot About the Rest”) and the first Broadway opening in late May (“Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune” at the Broadhurst) promised a rich variety of offerings to reward the hard work of the Drama Desk nominator. And, as in every season, we know that a wild array of starry vehicles would be crushed into the final few weeks of the season in late March and April.

This year was my second as chair of the committee, after serving as an eager member in three other seasons starting in 2012-2013. I looked forward, as always, to viewing 8-10 shows most weeks, talking about them at regular intervals with my six teammates, and building toward the final crush of the season where I expected to see 40 shows or more in the last five weeks and to finalize the nominations in several intense meetings during the final few days.

Then the world shifted a bit on its axis, and all the action stopped. My last show of the season was one that we, in the end, weren’t able to consider — the final preview of “Six” at the Brooks Atkinson on March 11, 2020. There were performances but it didn’t really “open” — did it happen at all?

On March 12th I wrote to the nominating committee team.

“We’re a community of our own. Our role might be different this season. What will the 2019-2020 season be, after all is said and done? Will it extend into the summer? Who knows as this point. Watching the cancellation notices come into my inbox and the news breaking in other locations has been wild and worrying. As I record the notes and delete shows from my calendar, it feels like Rachel Maddow’s ‘poof’ board as candidates each presidential season leave the field. ‘Poof’ there goes another show. And my heart hurts.”

For several weeks, we held our breaths and attempted to get our bearings, individually, as an industry, as an Awards program that attempts to reflect back to the art form the joy it gives us.

Several weeks later, on April 7th, the nominators put their working hats on, empowered by the board to continue our process as we have conducted it historically with the curtailed, the forever asterisked, truncated season. We met by Zoom twice for extended conversations to finalize our consideration of over 200 shows and to assemble our nominees. In a lovely bit of karmic good will, recipients of one of the special awards the nominating committee unanimously determined made the awards announcement on a twice daily broadcast called Stars in the House. Seth Rudetsky and James Wesley read the names and made us all a little misty. (For the record, our decision to honor their project, co-contributor Dr. Jonathan LaPook, and The Actors Fund for which they raise money, with a special award happened some time before their show was identified as the way to make the nominee announcement. Kismet.) As James noted during the show, this reading of names, a touch back to a bit of normalcy, reminded us all of what this time of year has felt like in prior years. “The Before Times” as my husband and I refer to them now. Our time before, going forward.

Miraculously, we announced our nominees and our special awards on the long-planned date: April 21, 2020. We’re proud of all the nominees and mourn the shows we didn’t have the chance to applaud and consider. And we’ll convene as a community from our own corners of the world for the 65th Annual Drama Desk Awards, to be  announced during a special presentation of Spectrum News NY1’s On Stage on Sunday, May 31, at 7:30pm. The awards special also will stream on NY1 and DramaDeskAwards.

© Martha Wade Steketee (April 30, 2020)

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