& Juliet star Justin David Sullivan is speaking out about The Tony Awards' gendered performance categories in the wake of the awards' Administration Committee releasing its first round of eligibility determinations earlier today. That committee meeting means the deadline has passed for productions to make requests about which categories performers should be considered for in terms of nominations. Given the choice of actor or actress categories, Sullivan, who is non-binary and playing a non-binary character, has bowed out completely.
"I was told that I had to choose [the category in which] I felt comfortable, and in that process, I struggled a lot," Sullivan told Playbill. "There's nothing more that I want to empower than non-binary people, to show that it's possible to be non-binary on Broadway, play a non-binary character on Broadway and be nominated, and possibly potentially awarded. I felt like I couldn't choose. I didn't feel right being in either category because it didn't resonate with me. I decided the only thing that felt right to me would be to abstain from nomination consideration. So I will not be considered for a Tony nomination."
And according to The New York Times, Sullivan is not the first non-binary performer to pull themselves out from Tony Award consideration. Asia Kate Dillon, Malcolm in last season's Macbeth, did the same, though that decision was not made public.
In light of Sullivan's abstention, the Tonys, co-presented by The Broadway League and The American Theatre Wing, has released a statement. “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 feel excluded [on the basis of gender identity] in future seasons." [Editor's note: A rule change, newly allowing voters to submit votes for categories in which they have not seen up to one of the nominated performances, productions, or designs, was announced along with the Administration Committee's first round of eligibility determinations.]
Gendered awards categories have become something of a hot topic in the theatre industry, with some organizations looking to make awards more equitable by removing gender from the mix entirely. The Lucille Lortel Awards, which honors Off-Broadway productions, made that move beginning last year. The Outer Critics Circle Awards, which recognizes both Broadway and Off-Broadway productions, followed suit last month, with the new genderless categories set to make their debut later this year.
"I hope that this is a wake-up call to not only the Tonys, but for every award show to celebrate everyone and to make sure they're being inclusive," Sullivan says. "Things are shifting. There are so many gender-queer and gender-expansive artists in our community, and they bring so much to the table. So it hurts, and it was a really hard decision to make. As a young theatre kid, that's all you dream about. I always felt like people just didn't know where to put me, what to do with me, so it was really a shame to get to this point in my career where I'm breaking ceilings and doing things that I have always dreamed about and to still feel like people don't know where to put me. I hope that this inspires a conversation to be had and an important one that needs to happen, to make sure that moving forward, there is more inclusivity in the nomination categories."
Playbill also recently spoke to gender non-conforming Broadway performer Alex Newell, soon to be back on the Main Stem in Shucked, about the issue in a separate conversation. Newell, who also starred in the 2017 Broadway revival of Once On This Island, echoes Sullivan's thoughts. "We sit here and want to treat everyone equal, but it's not about equal," says Newell. "It's about the equity of it all, and we're not all the same." As for updating awards categories to include performers who live outside of the actor-actress binary, Newell says, "It is really time. We love to talk about how Broadway itself and musical theatre and theatre is a place that is so safe, but we're not making the place safe at the same time because we're so wrapped up in tradition. I think it's time to really turn that mirror and look at ourselves for what we are. It's an art form that is supposed to serve the artists who make it, not the other way around."