Justin David Sullivan, a nonbinary performer who plays the character of May in the hit Broadway musical & Juliet, has withdrawn from Tony Award consideration due to the gendered nomination categories, and Tony administrators suggest they’re considering a rule change after the current season.
Sullivan, who uses the pronouns he, she and they, said in a statement, “As a nonbinary performer playing a nonbinary principal role on Broadway, I have been asked by many what I plan on doing about this year’s award season nomination categories.
“Because I was told I had no other option but to choose between one of the two gendered categories in which I would be eligible,” they continued, “I felt that I had no choice but to abstain from being considered for a nomination this season. I could not in good faith move forward with denying any part of my identity to conform to a system and structure that does not hold space for people like me.”
See Sullivan’s full statement below.
As with the Oscars and Emmys, the Tonys nominate performers in “actor” and “actress” categories, both lead performances and featured (or supporting). At least one award-giving New York theater organization, the Outer Critics Circle, eliminated gendered categories this year, following the lead of the Obie Awards. The Grammys discontinued gendered categories more than a decade ago, and the UK’s BAFTA has said it is considering genderless categories. The Berlin Film Festival switched to genderless awards categories in 2021.
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Tony administrators aren’t ruling out a similar change for its acting categories — but it won’t happen this season. In a statement, Tony Award Productions responded to Sullivan’s decision by noting: “We recognize that the current acting categories are not fully inclusive, and we are currently in discussion about how to best adjust them to address this. Unfortunately, we are still in process on this and our rules do not allow us to make changes once a season has begun. We are working thoughtfully to ensure that no member of our community feels excluded on the basis of gender identity in future seasons.”
While a Tony nomination, or at least a win, is thought to be a boon to box office, & Juliet producers say they’re “fully supportive” of Sullivan’s decision.
“The production worked closely with Justin and their team, and we’re fully supportive of Justin’s request not to be considered for eligibility in either the Featured Actress or Featured Actor category,” producers said in a joint statement. “We’re encouraged to hear that the Tony Awards are actively discussing positive change for future seasons, and we honor everyone in this industry currently working towards a more inclusive future.”
& Juliet is a musical comedy built around the premise that Shakespeare’s Juliet does not die along with Romeo at the end of the classic play. The musical features songs written by Max Martin (who leads the producing team), including hit songs he wrote for Britney Spears (“…Baby One More Time”), Backstreet Boys (“I Want It That Way”), Katy Perry (“I Kissed a Girl”) and Bon Jovi (“It’s My Life”). Among the showstoppers is a cover of the Spears hit “I’m Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman,” performed as a duet by the Juliet and May characters.
J. Harrison Ghee, a nonbinary performer and one of the leads in the new musical Some Like It Hot, remains in Tony consideration in the leading actor category, Tony administrators said Wednesday as the group released its first round of this season’s eligibility decisions. The choice was requested by producers, according to The New York Times.
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