The show is always fantastic, filled with heavily rehearsed performances and people who are super excited to be on television. Put Neil Patrick Harris in a tux, give him an orchestra, and you can’t go wrong. Same with Hugh Jackman.
Mostly I just love seeing people who work incredibly hard eight shows a week get their time in the spotlight. Mostly they toil away in the dark far away from theater-lovers like myself. Until the Tonys come around.
I always make it an event and invite people over, fellow lovers of the theater arts, most of them far more nerdy than myself. I’ve met them all through theater in college, and so we gather for our theater World Series, ready to celebrate artists we love and discover new artists to adore. We turn up the volume at the musical performances and shriek when we see Bernadette Peters or Mandy Patinkin in the audience. None of us feel silly because everyone else is doing exactly the same thing.
This year was a good year for acceptance speeches: endearing and random and full of love for other people in the room, who aren’t necessarily fellow actors, but costume designers and directors, agents and makeup artists, ensembles and musicians. The Tonys can feel like a family talent show that gives out spinning trophies at the end, and everyone just loves on each other.
James Corden gave a sweet and flustered thank you to his “baby mama” that he “can’t wait to marry,” and Audra McDonald told her daughter that her birthday 11 years ago was the best night of her mama’s life. But the winner for tear-jerking, poignant speech of the year was Steve Kazee, star of the movie-musical Once.
I don’t think anyone was surprised that he won, given his beautiful performance in the role of the nameless musician who falls hopelessly in love. But in his acceptance speech, he invoked the name of his mother, who died after a struggle with cancer on Easter Sunday of this year. She always told him to “show them whose little boy you are,” and last night he announced to the world that he was the son of Cathy Withrow Kazee.
The tribute was lovely and heart-wrenching, but it’s not the part that’s sticking with me. Kazee spoke about the cast of his show, with whom he spent all waking hours both before and after his mother died. He said that they held him up, carried him around, and made him feel alive. He was (and likely still is) a broken man, as one is after losing someone so dear to them, but he was involved in something greater than himself and he was being carried by those around him.
And I looked around at the people strewn across my small apartment, sitting in folding chairs, on the couch, on the floor. They are such a big part of my community. These people would carry me if I couldn’t go any further, if my heavy heart was breaking and leaking so badly I couldn’t move. It’s a community born out of hours in a dark theater. Of late night chats about fears. Of writing critiques and encouragement. Of too many brownies and British television. It’s inexplicable and unfathomable and unbreakable.
I’m so glad that Kazee had and has that community. Because maybe, if he hadn’t, he would have fallen and not been able to get up. But instead, he had to go do eight shows a week, a brutal schedule with a broken heart, but something to do and a safe place to feel, surrounded by artists who both love him and love the thing they were creating with him.
That’s the heart of the Tonys, of theater, of community wherever you can find it. It’s not something to take for granted.
And so this is my acceptance speech without needing to accept anything. I’m saying thank you to the community who lifts me up and grounds me, who carries me and makes me walk on my own. The people who support me from near and far, over Skype and over coffee dates. Those who know me well and let me change. And who celebrate and grieve with me as life requires.
Tell your community that you’re thankful for them. Don’t wait until you win a Tony. Because who knows? That could be five or six years from now.
Update: Watch Steve Kazee’s stirring acceptance speech.