The Drama Desk Award, presented since 1955, is the only award that recognizes excellence in shows produced in all sectors of New York theatre, including Broadway, off-Broadway, off-off-Broadway and legitimate not-for-profit theaters. It is considered one of the important American theatre awards. The award complements the Tony Awards, which focus solely on Broadway shows.
Originally called the Vernon Rice Awards in honor of theater critic Vernon Rice of the New York Post, the name was changed in 1963. In its earliest years, a small number of prizes were awarded, but there now are as many categories as there are for the Tonys. In the first fifteen years of the award, Broadway shows were not eligible. In 1968, Broadway shows began to compete with other New York productions head-to-head in each category. Only winners were announced in the early years, but in 1975, the Drama Desk began to announce nominees in advance.
The Drama Desk is composed of theatre critics, reporters and editors, more than 140 of whom vote on the awards. The Drama Desk chairperson of the Nominating Committee is Barbara Siegel, and its president is Isa Goldberg. The awards' executive producer is Robert R. Blume.
The Drama Desk Awards have been the first step towards stardom for numerous theatrical luminaries, including Andrew Lloyd Webber, Edward Albee, Wendy Wasserstein, George C. Scott, Stacy Keach, Sada Thompson, and Dustin Hoffman. Off-Broadway productions such as Driving Miss Daisy, Other People's Money, Steel Magnolias, and The Boys in the Band were propelled to international recognition based on their wins.
The Drama Desk Awards ceremony is held annually at LaGuardia Concert Hall of the Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts in Lincoln Center. The 2010 nominations were announced on May 3, 2010, and the ceremony was held on May 23, 2010 at LaGuardia Concert Hall, hosted by Patti LuPone. The next awards ceremony will be held on May 22, 2011.
For the 2009-2010 season, nine nominations were earned by the Off-Broadway musical The Scottsboro Boys. The revival of Ragtime originally received nine nominations but two, for Costumes and Orchestrations, were withdrawn.
The winners were: Red, Outstanding Play, Memphis, Outstanding Musical, Fences and A View from the Bridge, Outstanding Revival of a Play, and La Cage aux Folles , Outstanding Revival of a Musical. Special Awards were given for the cast, creative team and producers of The Orphans' Home Cycle by Horton Foote; Jerry Herman; Godlight Theatre Company; and Ma-Yi Theater Company.
For the 2008-2009 season, Ruined by Lynn Nottage and Billy Elliot The Musical by Elton John and Lee Hall won as Outstanding Play and Outstanding Musical. Hair and The Norman Conquests won Outstanding Revival (Play, Musical). Billy Elliot won ten awards, the most of any show.