The American Theatre Wing
The American Theatre Wing’s Antoinette Perry Awards, popularly known as the Tony Awards, have been presented for distinguished achievement in the theater since 1947. They have since become the most prestigious awards for live, professional theater in the United States.
The process that led to the Tony Awards began in 1917 when Rachel Crothers, one of the leading American women playwrights, and six of her colleagues rallied professional theater workers to form an organization to aid war relief. By the end of World War I, the Stage Women’s War Relief represented every segment of the New York professional theater. Together they collected food and clothing, set up servicemen “canteens” on Broadway, and sold millions of dollars’ worth of Liberty Bonds. Subsequently, during the Great Depression, Crothers organized the United Theatre Relief, continuing her humanitarian work and demonstrating her belief that theater professionals could serve society in more ways than merely entertainment.
In 1939, Crothers again rallied theater professionals to provide war relief for American allies. The Stage Women’s War Relief became a branch of the British War Relief Society and was soon known as the American Theatre Wing War Service. A men’s division was established with Gilbert Miller serving as chairman. When the United States entered World War II after the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the American Theatre Wing separated from the British War Relief Society. Antoinette Perry, an actress and one of the United States’ first successful women directors, was chosen president and secretary of the American Theatre Wing, which by this point encompassed the women’s and men’s organizations. Between 1941 and 1945, theater professionals continued the humanitarian projects begun during World War I. Under Perry’s progressive leadership, the Wing continually expanded its operations, eventually sponsoring fifty-four separate projects. The most well known of these were the Stage Door Canteens, offering servicemen a place to have a sandwich and a soft drink (no alcohol was served), to be entertained by volunteer performers, to meet theater stars, and to dance with chorus girls.
At the conclusion of the war, the American Theatre Wing remained an active organization but turned its humanitarian efforts to serving the civilian population. In 1946 the American Theatre Wing founded its Professional Training School under the G.I. Bill and trained thousands of returning military personnel for careers in all aspects of the professional theater.