When unlikely Broadway legend Wolverine (aka Hugh Jackman) hosts the 68th Annual Tony Awards this Sunday night, the ceremony's winners and losers will hinge on a few words typed inside some innocuous-looking black envelopes. But how exactly does the champion's name end up inside said fateful missive? For those who don't have a magical wish-granting genie (read: probably everyone), the process is actually quite complicated.
Who Decides Who Wins?
The Antoinette Perry Awards for Excellence in Theater (that's Tony to you) are determined by two governing bodies: the American Theatre Wing and The Broadway League. These two groups combine to make the Tony Awards Administration Committee, which consists of twenty-four people ever year: ten each from the ATW and TBL, and one each from the Dramatists Guild, Actors' Equity Association, United Scenic Artists, and the Society of Stage Directors and Choreographers. It is the job of the Administration Committee to constantly revise and refine the eligibility rules, and to appoint the Tony Award Nominating Committee. (Yes, another committee.)
The Nominating Committee is the group that's actually responsible for creating the shortlist of three-to-five nominees in each category. This committee consists of a rotating group of about 40 hand-picked people who serve three-year terms and are required to see every single new Broadway production every season.
Which Shows Are Eligible?
Speaking of the season, unlike the Oscars (in which the eligibility timeframe is a clear-cut January 1-December 31 calendar year), the Tonys operate on a different schedule. The actual cut-off date for eligibility is announced by the Administration Committee each year — for example, the cut-off date for this 2013-2014 season was April 24 and covers shows that opened as far back as May 2013. "Broadway productions" are defined not by their physical location (the theater doesn't have to actually be on Broadway), but the size of the auditorium: a Broadway theater has at least 500 seats. It just so happens that all 40 of those eligible theaters is located in the Time Square area — with the sole exception of Lincoln Center's Vivian Beaumont Theater on 65th Street.
How Do Voters Decide?
The list of Tony Awards is constantly in a state of flux, as irrelevant categories are nixed and new ones are added. As of 2011, there are 26 awards presented that range from Best Musical/Play through Performance/Technical categories to Special Honors and Regional Theatre awards. There are approximately 700 eligible Tony voters, who are expect to see all nominated shows (or at least abstain from voting for categories in which they haven't seen all the nominee). Just like the Oscars, an accounting firm (KPMG) is responsible for compiling the votes submitted by secret ballot and printing the envelopes, which no one but they will see until they're opened on stage on Sunday.
Images: Disney Theatrical Productions; The Nederlander Organization (2)