30 Written and Unwritten Tony Awards Rules to Know Before the Show

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From the excitement as the curtain draws and the orchestra begins to play to the thrill of witnessing powerhouse performances, there's no feeling quite like catching a show on Broadway.

For one special night a year, though, the energy usually contained in the Big Apple goes nationwide at the Tony Awards, as the season's best and brightest shows are honored in a televised ceremony. And if you're anything like us, you watch from home and ask yourself a few questions.

For instance, have you ever wondered why certain highly acclaimed actors or shows weren't nominated? Or how Tonys night performers are selected? And did you know there's a lengthy list of dos and don'ts for winners regarding their shiny new statue?

Well, here are 30 written and unwritten rules that actors, theater professionals, and Tony voters must keep in mind ahead of Broadway's biggest night.

An actor must perform on opening night to be eligible...

Entertainment Weekly reported that Lea Michele was not eligible for a 2023 Tony nomination for her acclaimed leading performance in Funny Girl, since she took over the role from Beanie Feldstein who starred in the show on opening night. While the rule is now always followed, it was bypassed in 1970 when Dean Jones, the lead actor in Company, left the show after just a month. His replacement, Larry Kert, was later nominated for a Tony.

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But it's a different story if actors routinely share the role.

In 2009, the three young actors who took turns playing Billy in Billy Elliot, The Musical all took home the Tony for Best Actor in a Musical, even though they all, naturally, didn't perform on opening night.

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Shows must be performed at certain theaters to be eligible.

According to Backstage, there are currently 41 eligible Broadway houses—all located in Manhattan—as determined by the Tony Administration Committee. Any show that runs at these theaters is eligible, as long as they complete the proper paperwork.

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A theater must have more than 500 seats to be deemed Tony-eligible.

According to the Tonys rulebook, the Helen Hayes theater is the only theater that does not fit this requirement, although it has been grandfathered in to remain eligible.

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Ties are possible.

And they happen more often then you might think! In the 76-year history of the Tonys, there have been 10 ties. The most recent occurred in 2009, when Billy Elliot, The Musical and Next To Normal both took home the award for Best Orchestrations.

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The distinction between lead actor and featured actor lies in the billing.

To be considered a lead, an actor's name should appear above the title. Anyone listed below the title is considered a featured actor, as stated in the official Tonys rulebook. Producers are welcome to file paperwork should they think an actor has been mis-categorized. In the case of Dear Evan Hansen, Vulture reported that although none of the actors' names were billed above the title, the committee decided that Ben Platt, who went on to win in the category, should be nominated as a lead actor.

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All of the musical nominees are expected to perform.

In an unwritten rule that's been followed for years, all of the shows nominated for Best Musical and Best Musical Revival perform at the ceremony, per New York Theatre Guide.

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A production needs to grant all Tony voters access in order to be nominated.

In 2017, the musical Sunday In The Park With George made headlines after showrunners removed the show from Tony consideration. Vulture reported that many speculated that the show, which was only scheduled for two performances, didn't want to allocate such a large amount of tickets during the show's limited run to Tony voters when they could instead be sold to the public.

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Actors cannot win for the same role twice.

When Glenn Close reprised her role of Norma Desmond in the 2017 revival of Sunset Boulevard, she was ineligible to be nominated because, as stipulated in the rulebook, she had already won for the part in 1995.

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Winners can get a replacement trophy, but it's tricky.

According to the rulebook, should a winner lose their trophy, they can get a replacement—but only if they can prove it's been lost, stolen, or destroyed. They also aren't entitled to any replica models of the statue.

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Winners can't sell their statue to just anyone.

Should a recipient want to sell their award, they must first offer to sell it to the Tony Award Productions for $10.00.

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And they can't use their Tony for commercial purposes either.

If they do, the governing body of the awards will repossess their award. The rulebook also states that all winners must sign a receipt acknowledging these rules before taking home their trophy.

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The number of nominated shows may vary.

If there are nine or more eligible shows in either of the Best Show categories, the nominating committee narrows the field to four via secret ballot. Should there be a difference of three votes or less once all ballots are tallied, a fifth show will receive a nomination. If there are five or fewer eligible shows, only three will be selected, per the official rulebook.

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The Revival categories are subject to change every year.

If there are more than three eligible plays and three eligible musicals, there will automatically be two separate categories for revival shows. According to the Tonys rulebook, a show must not only fit all of the pre-established guidelines, but also be deemed a quality show by the committee in order to be eligible for revival awards. In 2024, there are two separate categories, with An Enemy of the People, starring Michael Imperioli and Jeremy Strong, garnering a nod in the Play category.

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Shows that have never appeared on Broadway can still be considered revivals.

In 2023, Ohio State Murders, helmed by Audra McDonald, was considered a revival, even though it had only previously appeared Off-Broadway. How is this decided? According to the Tony rules, if a show can be considered "a classic in the historical or popular repertoire," it should be deemed a revival.

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Members of the nominating committee must see every show.

Every year, the Tony Awards Administration selects "no fewer than 15 and no more than 62" theater professionals to be part of the Tony Awards Nominating Committee. Members of this committee are then randomly assigned term lengths, ranging from one to three theater seasons. They are expected to see every Broadway show and nominate artists and productions via secret ballot.

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There's a separate (larger) voting committee.

While the nominating committee is typically comprised of about 50 people, the voting population includes about 800 members of the New York theater community, from actors to writers, directors, designers, managers, and casting directors, according to Backstage. Producers of every eligible show receive a full list of voters prior to opening night.

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Voters are required to see every nominated show.

Per the official rules, every voter must self-certify that they have seen every show by tracking the attendance in an online voter portal.

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But there have been exceptions.

During the 2022-2023 season, the Tony Award Administration Committee ruled that voters could miss up to one show per category, according to The Hollywood Reporter. This one-time rule change was enacted because of casting changes and delays due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

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Producers can campaign Tony voters using select items.

But the rules state that they can only gift the following items: a souvenir book, a script, an audio or video cast recording that replicates the on-stage performance, or one set of selected reviews.

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Several noncompetitive Tony Honors are given every year.

While there are typically 26 awards presented at each ceremony, there are often a handful of noncompetitive honors—ranging from prizes for exemplary regional theater programs to awards for charity work and lifetime achievement recognitions. Notable lifetime achievement recipients include Angela Lansbury, Andrew Lloyd Webber, James Earl Jones, and Stephen Sondheim.

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Lifetime achievement awards are not allowed to be given posthumously.

While some organizations have no qualms about giving lifetime achievement awards posthumously, the official rules state that recipients must be alive to receive the award. The one exception? If the recipient passes in the period after nominations, but before the ceremony, someone else can accept the award on their behalf.

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Regional Tony awards have their own set of rules.

According to the rulebook, the Regional Theater Tony Award is given each year to a company that has "displayed a continuous level of artistic achievement contributing to the growth of theater nationally." No theater can win more than once, unless there has been new artistic leadership in place for at least five years following their first win. The award can also not be given to theaters in the same city for consecutive years. Should a theater have a show that transfers to a Tony-eligible house, they are no longer in the running for the prize.

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A 'Special Tony Award' might be presented.

In addition to the standard awards and Tony Honors, Special Tony Awards can be presented to shows, actors, or organizations who do not fall into any of the competitive categories. Ahead of the 2024 awards, it was announced that Alex Edelman will receive a special award for an "exemplary debut" for his solo show Just for Us, while Nikyia Mathis will be recognized for hair and wig design for her work in Jaja’s African Hair Braiding. Half a century before, Bette Midler and Liza Minnelli both received special awards in 1974 for simply "adding lustre to the Broadway season."

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The eligibility committee must meet several times if necessary.

Ahead of the 2024 awards, the Tony Awards Administration Committee met four times before nominations were released in order to determine which categories each show would be eligible for. One of the shows discussed was the play Stereophonic, which is now the most Tony-nominated play in history.

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Nominees don't walk away empty-handed.

Although we're sure every nominee would love to take home the iconic Tony statue, only one person per category gets to call the Tony their own. That said, per the award FAQ, all nominees receive a certificate and a commemorative pin to celebrate their accomplishment. Prior to the advent of the Tony trophy in 1949, all winners were given a scroll and a money clip. Male winners also took home a cigarette lighter, while women were given a compact.

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The Tony season runs from April to April.

While the exact dates differ slightly every year, eligibility runs on an April-April schedule, not a standard calendar year. A show must open within these dates to be considered eligible for that year's ceremony.

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The ceremony technically doesn't need a host.

Although Ariana DeBose has hosted the show three times—including in 2024—there is no official rule that states that the show needs a host. For a period in the 1960s and 1970s, the show was hosted by groups of theater's biggest names instead of one person, while as recently as 2007, there was no formal host.

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There's not a set theater for the annual ceremony.

Although the ceremony has been held at Radio City Music Hall over 20 times, that's not a hard-and-fast rule. In 2023, the awards were held at the United Palace in New York's Washington Heights neighborhood—and in 2024, they will take place at Lincoln Center. In past years, the Tonys have been held at Broadway theaters, and throughout the show's first fifteen years, they were held at a variety of Manhattan hotels, from The Plaza to the Waldorf-Astoria.

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Disparagement is prohibited.

Shows are forbidden from creating public communication that is deemed "disparaging or casting any negative or derogatory light on a competing production, element, person, or achievement." The rules also state that shows cannot mention any other show running in the current theatrical season in their promotional materials.

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