For over two decades, 14-time Emmy Award winner Glenn Weiss has been the creative force behind the Tony Awards, serving as both director and executive producer. As he gears up for the 77th Annual Tony Awards, Weiss reflects on the evolution of the ceremony, the thrill of live television, and the unique changes planned for this year’s event.

The 77th Tony Awards, with host Academy Award winner and Tony Award nominee Ariana DeBose, will air from the David H. Koch Theater at Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in New York City on Sunday, June 16  on the CBS Television Network, and streaming on Paramount+ in the US.

Read the full interview with Weiss below! 


You have been a part of the Tony Awards for over 20 years as a director and executive producer. How has the ceremony evolved in the past two decades?

I think the ceremony has evolved as technology has evolved. I’m proud of what we did 20 years ago, and I love the rich history of the Tonys, but I think the use of screens, for example, and technology, has allowed us to bring richer visual presentations and numbers. And it’s been really great to embrace all of the tools, but really be respectful of the show’s looks and their origins and trying to recreate it as realistically as possible.

What does it mean to you to be such an integral a part of theatre history in this way?

It’s fantastic to be a part of. I’m obviously a huge theatre fan, and to be a part of being able to bring it into people’s living rooms, and into their homes, and on their phones, it’s a great feeling. Theatre itself is all about storytelling, and we go and see different plays and musicals to learn stories, and get lost in the moment, and be in theatre. For me, to be able to take my craft of being a television director and being able to enhance that, being able to be a part of it, but also bring a little emotion with how we choose to do it, and how we choose to cover it is quite satisfying.

And the other really fantastic part of the job is the people I get to work with. The creatives, the directors, the choreographers, the actors, everyone who comes together to do this, we’re doing it together. It’s not, “Oh, here comes the TV guys,” we’re doing this communally, and as a result it’s a great feeling to be a part of this community.

A couple of years ago a video went viral of you backstage giving direction during the awards ceremony. Can you talk about where you are and what are you doing while the show is actually happening?

That was a great moment, it had been captured by someone sitting behind me. But that is the experience during the show for me. So, as the producer and director, for the seven or eight weeks, but really all year round, you’re building to take us to that point. When the show is on, I’m sitting in a production truck outside of the theatre, and I have—in this case, in this year—15 monitors in front of me, I’m on a headset talking to the cameras, to audio, to pretty much everyone on the production team, and we’re running the show live. I’m calling every camera cut that you see.

That moment that was captured in the Neil Patrick Harris open, that number was probably the biggest thing we’d ever put together at that point, there were so many things that could have gone wrong. That clip that went viral was the audience reaction as the thing was culminating, and how it got intense, but also the shot selection, what went out on TV, of people reacting to it, and it’s a great video. I’m happy that I didn’t even know it was being shot. It’s a great showcase to show live television in action because anything can happen. I have my script, I have my shots planned, but then there’s the reaction. You can’t plan for reaction, you have to be in the moment to get reaction, and that’s a huge part of the job that I absolutely adore; making sure that we capture not just this great performance, but how the audience in the theatre is reacting as well.

I can’t imagine the adrenaline rush you must get. Is there an aspect of the process that makes you nervous every year?

I’m a different breed. Not every director feels this way, for me the thrill is the live show. There is a lot of preparation that goes in, you have an entire prep period to make sure that you plan, that you understand what you’re doing, that you understand relationships between people, you understand where people are seated… For me, all of that prep is like waiting in a really long queue in Disney to get on Space Mountain for two and a half minutes. The show is Space Mountain for me, it’s the thrill, it’s what I love to do, and love to watch, and gauge reaction, and cut at the right place, and all of that stuff. In order to do that properly you have to wait in the queue, just like you would if you were waiting for Space Mountain. And so, it really is a strange analogy, but it’s a true analogy. That energy and excitement of the live show is thrilling for me while it’s very intimidating for others. But we are all wired a little differently, and I’m just crazy in that way.

What are the challenges in handling a change of venue? And how will this year’s awards be different due to the venue change?

It’s funny, this is our fourth or fifth venue in as many years, and going to new buildings makes you look at what might be the same a little bit differently. Because at the end of the day, the product that you see on screen will be what it is, but how to make it work is different at each of these theatres. So, it’s been a stimulating process.

I’ll tell you something to look forward to this year. The award shows, us, the Oscars, the Emmys, the Grammys, when you’re doing a performance-based show, there has been a formula to how we have done that, and that is this close-down comes in so that they can reset for the next act upstage, and downstage we’re giving out awards in a very small space. We came up with this brilliant idea, I think. When you go to a Broadway show, they don’t bring in the curtain every time they change the scene, the scene unfolds in front of you, and it’s a normal part you don’t even notice during a Broadway show because it’s just part of the DNA, it’s part of the choreography. And this turned into an ‘aha’ moment, like, ‘Why are we doing this like the Grammy’s? We’re not setting up the next rock n roll band, we’re setting up scenes from a theatrical experience, why not present it more theatrically?

Every award will be on a big open stage, and we’re going to use our screens to be a part of our award moment. Then when we are getting ready to go into our performance, we are literally going to change the scene. You are going to see the scene change in front of your eyes as a TV viewer, and also as an audience member. We’re going to change scenes, have the cast move things on, or have the cast just move on, or have the cast be pushed on, but every transition within the show, for the most part, is going to unfold in front of you, instead of doing this curtain up every time. We’re excited about it, we think it’s going to come off really well, but man, this is uncharted territory. We have definitely not done this in the confines of the time that we have on a live show. My fingers are crossed that it works the way it should, but this is a really fun thing that brings more theatricality into this television show.

Ariana DeBose is hosting for the third year in a row. Is there any kind of peace of mind knowing that she’s a pro at this hosting gig now?

I’m thrilled that she’s here. There’s a different kind of comfort zone with someone that understands the show, and my god, her talent, her singing, her dancing… I think last year we were much more dance-driven because of the writer’s strike. This year we’ve written an opening number, and she’s choreographing the opening herself, which I think is a fantastic experience. It’s great to have her here for the third year.

In all your years with the Tony Awards, does any one year stand out to you?

No question, the 2024 show is going to be the best ever of all the years that I’ve done it!

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