A non-binary performer in the Broadway hit musical & Juliet has withdrawn from Tony award eligibility in protest against the organization’s gendered categories.
Justin David Sullivan, who plays the part of May, a friend of the title character in a reimagining of William Shakespeare’s play, said in a statement they had ‘no choice but to abstain from being considered for nomination this season.
Sullivan complained that neither category ‘resonated’ with them in an interview with Playbill about their decision.
‘I hope that award shows across the industry will expand their reach to be able to honor and award people of all gender identities,’ they added.
Both the Obie Awards, the most high-profile awards ceremony for off-Broadway performances, and the Outer Critics Circle Awards have announced the removal of gender specific categories this year. The Grammy Awards has been without many gendered categories since 2012, the British equivalent followed suit in 2021.
Justin David Sullivan, a native of Southern California, said this week that their decision to withdraw from consideration was because neither category ‘resonate’ with them
The show & Juliet, which debuted in November 2022 and attracted a host of A-listers to its premiere, is currently running at the Stephen Sondheim Theater.
It started out at the Manchester Opera House in England in September 2019 before moving to the West End in London in November 2019, and has received three Olivier Awards.
One reviewer wrote of Sullivan’s moment in the show when they sing Britney Spears’ hit I’m Not a Girl Not Yet a Woman saying: ‘It’s a landmark moment for Broadway, allowing a nonbinary main character to talk about being misgendered and what it’s like to date while trans.’
Following their decision to withdraw, Sullivan told Playbill they did not feel comfortable choosing a gender when deciding to submit. They said: ‘I struggled a lot.’
‘There’s nothing more that I want to empower than non-binary people, to show that it’s possible to be non-binary on Broadway, play a non-binary character on Broadway and be nominated, and possibly potentially awarded,’ they added.
Sullivan said neither category ‘resonated with them’ and that the only thing that felt right was to ‘abstain’ from nomination.
In their report on Sullivan’s withdrawal, The New York Times wrote that the star has ‘put public pressure on the awards.’
Sullivan claimed in their interview with Playbill that they hope their decision serves as a ‘wake-up’ call not just for the Tonys but for every award ceremony.
In their report on Sullivan’s withdrawal, The New York Times wrote that the star has ‘put public pressure on the awards’
Sullivan pictured with Broadway-icon Lin Manuel Miranda in January 2023 on stage at the Stephen Sondheim Theatre
Tony Productions said in a statement on Sullivan’s decision: ‘We recognize that the current acting categories are not fully inclusive, and we are currently in discussion about how to best adjust them to address this’
‘There are so many gender-queer and gender-expansive artists in our community, and they bring so much to the table,’ they said.
Sullivan added that when he was a ‘young, theater kid’ being nominated for a Tony was ‘all you dream about’.
The Broadway actor went on: ‘I hope that this inspires a conversation to be had and an important one that needs to happen, to make sure that moving forward, there is more inclusivity in the nomination categories.’
According to their official website, Sullivan is a native of Southern California and is determined ‘to color the world with every crayon in the box’.
They say that they are ‘openly queer’ and are of Mexican and Korean descent. They are a graduate of UC San Diego and moved to New York City in the summer of 2021.
Sullivan describes their hobbies away from the stage as photography, makeup and fashion.
In an online bio, Sullivan says they were ‘born to perform’
Following their decision to withdraw, Sullivan told Playbill they did not feel comfortable choosing a gender when deciding to submit. They said: ‘I struggled a lot’
In a December 2022 interview with Elle, Sullivan was asked about the gendering of award categories.
They said: ‘I don’t think that [the awards cycle] has ever been in a position where they don’t know what to do.’
Sullivan cites the fact that there has never been a non-binary character like theirs which could explain the reason that the categories are binary.
‘I hope that me taking up space here is forcing them to reflect on these categories and making them more inclusive for all types of performers,’ Sullivan said.
They described Broadway as being ‘so far behind’ and that: ‘We haven’t had the discussion in terms of the show and the team, but it will be interesting. So I guess we shall stay tuned and find out.’
Last year, nonbinary actor Asia Kate Dillon, who played Malcolm in a production of MacBeth, withdrew from consideration, the Times reported on Wednesday.
Another non-binary performer, J. Harrison Ghee, who stars in the musical Some Like it Hot, will be considered for nomination in 2023.
Ghee told the Daily Beast last week: ‘I’m not going to put myself on this pedestal like, “I need it to change today.” I never go into things expecting to be the person that changes everything. I’m just showing up and meeting the moment.’
& Juliet producers use the story of Romeo & Juliet to mix in some of the biggest pop hits of the past few decades by Spears, Celine Dion, NSYNC, Ariana Grande, Katy Perry, Jon Bon Jovi, The Weeknd, Justin Timberlake, Pink and Backstreet Boys.
The jukebox musical starts when William Shakespeare’s wife challenges him to rewrite Romeo and Juliet with a happier ending for Juliet.
In a statement on Sullivan’s withdrawal, Tony Award Productions said: ‘We recognize that the current acting categories are not fully inclusive, and we are currently in discussion about how to best adjust them to address this.
‘Unfortunately, we are still in process on this and our rules do not allow us to make changes once a season has begun. We are working thoughtfully to ensure that no member of our community feel excluded, on the basis of gender identity, in future seasons.’