Because of the current pandemic and the resultant shutdown of live public performances in New York beginning on March 12, the leadership of the Outer Critics Circle – founded during the 1949-50 season as the official organization of writers on New York theater for out-of-town newspapers, national publications, and other media beyond Broadway – previously announced a postponement of its annual awards for this 70th anniversary year. But with New York Mayor Bill de Blasio’s most recent extension of the closure order through the end of June, the realization that the situation won’t be changing any time soon has led the OCC leadership to move forward in a way that’s respectful to both the theater industry and the outside world, “by creating a sense of communal joy at a time when we all need it most.”
The OCC Board, under the leadership of President David Gordon, has made the decision to forego the competition aspect of the usual awards tradition, and consequently, none of the organization’s members will be voting on “winners.” Instead, they will determine up to five names in each of 26 categories, which will be presented as a list of 2020 honorees, to be announced on Monday, May 11 – the original reveal date that was scheduled months ago, prior to the coronavirus crisis. The eligibility date has been set for shows, both on and off Broadway, that opened by March 6 of this year, for a total of nearly 170 productions to be considered.
Four recipients of the OCC’s John Gassner Award for New American Play by a New American Playwright – given in honor of the esteemed theater historian, writer, and professor (1903-67) – will each receive a cash prize. The Board is also planning a donation to the Actors Fund, in support of its relief efforts. Still under discussion by the Board is how to celebrate this season’s named honorees, whether with an online gathering or waiting for the quarantine to be lifted for an in-person get together, which would take place either later this year or early next year.
Check back on Monday, May 11, for the full list of Outer Critics Circle honorees of the 2019-20 season and an update on the celebration.