5 lessons from the 2018 Tony Awards

The annual awards show offered theatre fans and communicators a look at performance styles that resonate with audiences—and spectacles that transport distant viewers.

This year’s Tony Awards weren’t an overly flashy affair.

Hosts Sara Bareilles and Josh Groban moved the night along with music and crisp dialogue. Some honorees quipped about politics but addressed human concerns instead of partisan party lines.

Then Robert De Niro got on the mic. The veteran actor, known for his work on the silver screen, dropped some expletives on President Donald Trump.

However, most of the night’s speeches were lessons in subtlety, as honorees took sideswipes and used oblique references to make their political points.

Here are five moments that made an impact:

1. Andrew Garfield’s passionate acceptance speech

Garfield won his award for his performance in “Angels in America,” the Tony Kushner play about the LGBTQ community and the AIDS epidemic of the 80s and 90s. Garfield spoke movingly about the human spirit, saying all humans are created perfectly, and he honored the warriors who fought and died for LGBTQ rights.

Garfield also gave a subtle nod to a recent Supreme Court decision about baking a cake for a gay wedding with his final quip: “Let’s bake a cake for everyone who wants a cake baked.”

2. David Cromer pleas for people to reach out for help

Without specifically mentioning the recent high-profile losses of Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade, Cromer called on those who might be suffering or have lost hope to keep looking and to reach out, and implored those who aren’t suffering themselves to respond.

Suicide prevention has been on the minds of many lately, and there are many ways organizations are trying to refocus efforts to reach those who might be suffering from depression. Cromer was able to focus on the issue without stigmatizing it by simply asking people to reach out for help.

3. Robert De Niro says “F— Trump”

When is swearing appropriate? Most workplace situations call for restraint, but sometimes a well-placed F-bomb can drive a message home.

De Niro was introducing Bruce Springsteen, who won a special Tony Award, when he gave the president a piece of his mind. The comment drew applause and cheering from the audience, though it was bleeped by CBS censors for the broadcast.

The Washington Post reported:

“That was the best part of the whole evening!” commented actor John Leguizamo later that night at the Plaza Hotel after-party. “I jumped to my feet.” He added that “the Tonys have never been this political.” Leguizamo himself, accepting a special Tony, brought up the fate of immigrant children in detention centers and the deaths of thousands of Puerto Ricans in Hurricane Maria. He also declared, “I’m an immigrant, and I’m not an animal”—referring to Trump’s recent remarks that some people living in a country illegally or without legal permission are “animals.”

4. Tony Shaloub honors immigrant father

A more restrained political statement came from actor Tony Shaloub, who received the award for best actor in a musical. The veteran of both stage and screen shared his father’s story of arriving at Ellis Island at 8 years old and reminded the audience that the award was as much a celebration of his parents’ sacrifices and commitment as it was a recognition of his own talent.

Shaloub closed his speech by asking the audience to never forget the lessons their parents taught them, a nod to the current immigration debate which promises to be a big part of November’s midterm elections.

Communicators should take note of the power of personal anecdotes. Shaloub was able to sidestep partisan rancor and remind viewers of the human truth behind immigration issues with a very simple and short narrative.

5. Parkland students sing “Seasons of Love”

The drama teacher from Marjorie Douglas High School, the site of a deadly school shooting in February, was honored with a special Tony Award. However, it was her students who stole the show with a performance of the gospel choir classic “Seasons of Love” from the musical “Rent.”

The Washington Post reported:

By far the most emotional moment of the evening evoked the nation’s divisions over gun reform, when Melody Herzfeld, drama teacher at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, was honored from the Tony stage. Herzfeld, the one-woman drama department at the school, has been credited with saving lives by barricading students into a classroom closet during the Valentine’s Day mass shooting that killed 17 people. She later encouraged many of her pupils to lead the nationwide movement for gun reform.

Herzfeld spoke during the pre-show. But later, students in her drama department surprised the audience by appearing onstage to sing “Seasons of Love” from the musical “Rent.”

They got the biggest ovation of the night.

What were your favorite moments of the 2018 Tony Awards, PR Daily readers?

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