Remember Bette Midler at the Tonys last year? Everyone was thrilled when she won her (well deserved) award for Best Actress, and she was accompanied by an adoring round of applause as she swooped up to the stage to accept the trophy. Midler grinned, took the award, and began her acceptance speech.
And it went on.
And it went on.
After waiting for a little longer than the allowed time for each winner to give their speech, the orchestra began to play as a courteous way to tell Ms. Midler that she needed to wrap it up. But, instead of rushing out her last thank yous and exiting the stage with ceremonious grace, Midler chose to keep her speech going, almost as if she was testing to see how long she could get away with dragging out her moment of triumph before being physically pulled off the stage. At one point, she even shouted, “Turn that crap off!” to the orchestra, and the audience laughed and cheered her on. After all, how dare the orchestra so rudely interrupt the great Bette Midler! She deserves this moment, and since she’s a legend, she’s earned the right to interrupt the flow of a tightly-scheduled awards show all she wants!
The week following that Sunday, to me, was irritating. The press went in a frenzy, covering the moment with an exaggerated sense of awe. When browsing online, all I could ever see (apart from discourse over whether Dear Evan Hansen or Natasha, Pierre & the… deserved Best Musical more) was everyone celebrating Bette Midler’s decision to so rudely break the rules in order to keep herself in the spotlight for as long as possible.
“She can talk for as long as she wants!” posters on Broadway World declared. “She’s Bette Midler!”
“She’s earned the right to do that,” fans on Tumblr agreed. “She’s amazing. What an icon!”
“I STAN ONE (1) WOMAN AND HER NAME IS BETTE MIDLER!” the self-proclaimed “stans” on Twitter cheered.
And I’m here to ask...why?
I mean, why is it acceptable for someone to break the established rules of courtesy just because she’s the biggest name in the room? The truth is that the acceptance speech length limit is there for a reason; if everyone dragged on for more than a couple minutes as they accepted their awards, then the entire show would last for an unpredictable amount of time, depending on how long each speech took. The Tony Awards are given a specific time slot to be done in, and the show needs to stay relatively within that range in order to keep the rest of the channel’s schedule going smoothly.
This means that, by stretching out her speech for as long as she could possibly make it, Midler took time away from the Best Musical winners and closing moments just so she could drink up a little extra attention. I know a few people whose TV stations had to shut off the program before it was completely finished, because the show had already gone over the allotted time. Had Midler kept her speech at an appropriate length, the show could have ended at a more reasonable time for the schedule.
Let’s be honest: if she wasn’t the Bette Midler, but rather a newcomer actress to the Broadway scene, how many people would have hailed her decision to deliver a five minute-speech as an “iconic” act? Would she have been met with rounds of applause or laughter, or would everyone have been rolling their eyes and checking their watches? Would Broadway fans be defending it by insisting that, in winning the award, she’s earned the right to deliver as long a speech as she wants, or would they be demanding to know who this nobody who’s holding the rest of the evening back thinks she is? I think we all know the answer to both of those questions.
The Tony Awards should be about celebrating theatre; in doing so, we should be celebrating all of the winners and making sure that they all have equal time to shine. Regardless of whether a winner has been in the industry for decades or mere months, everyone who’s been recognized has equally “earned” the right to be celebrated on that stage, and we shouldn’t be giving a pass to someone breaking the rules just because they’re more famous than their peers.
Ms. Midler, I enjoy your work, and I absolutely agree that you deserved your award. But please remember that these special evenings aren’t just about you.
(Photo by Michael Zorn.)