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Here's why Broadway won't dim its lights for Joan Rivers

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Joan Rivers Broadway
Ed Bailey/AP

UPDATE #3: The Broadway League has reversed its decision and will now honor Rivers after all. In a statement, St. Martin said, “Joan Rivers loved Broadway and we loved her. Due to the outpouring of love and respect for Joan Rivers from our community and from her friends and fans worldwide, the marquees of Broadway theatres in New York will be dimmed in her memory tonight, at exactly 6:45 pm for one minute.”

A decision by the Broadway League not to honor Joan Rivers with the traditional posthumous tribute afforded to deceased stage celebrities has the theater community up in arms on Twitter.

In an interview with The New York Times, executive director Charlotte St. Martin explained the League’s decision not to honor Rivers with the tradition of dimming the lights on Broadway theater marquees. It’s an honor bestowed on Broadway icons typically within the week following their death, yet Rivers—a Tony Award nominee, playwright, frequent opening night guest, and vehement vocal supporter of Broadway—apparently doesn’t qualify.

“Under our criteria people need to have been very active recently in the theater, or else be synonymous with Broadway — people who made their careers here, or kept it up,” St. Martin told the Times. “We love Joan – she was very supportive of Broadway and came to a lot of show openings – but she hasn’t acted on Broadway in 20 years… When you say Joan Rivers, you don’t think comedy, television and Broadway. You think comedy and television. It’s certainly nothing against her.”

The Broadway League represents the interests of theater owners and producers, and its explanation has elicited sizable criticism from fans of theater and Rivers (and the likely large overlap of both groups). Industry supporters have taken to Twitter with the hashtag #Dim4Joan to voice their disdain for the League’s decision, which was made by a small committee which St. Martin did not identify. An online petition has also started circulating.

Rivers made her Broadway acting and writing debut with 1972’s Fun City, which ran for just nine performances. In 1986, she starred in Neil Simon’s Broadway Bound, and in 1994, Rivers returned to Broadway in her own play Sally Marr…and her escorts, which earned her a Tony Award nomination for Best Actress in a Play. In fact, Rivers recently revealed that she was even planning to revive Sally Marr this fall.

It’s worth noting that there are exceptions to St. Martin’s criteria, perhaps most notably in the recent dimming of lights for Robin Williams, who performed a one-man stand-up show in 2002 and appeared in Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo in 2011. The decision to dim marquee lights is most certainly not a contest of who deserves it more, as each passing should be treated individually, but the decision to ignore Rivers has struck a nerve with many who felt like the comedian deserved the same honor as many of her colleagues. (Refer to Playbill for 12 reasons why.)

Rivers wrote about her love for the Tony Awards, and in a recent interview with New York Magazine, she said, “If you don’t go to Broadway, you’re a fool. On Broadway, off Broadway, above Broadway, below Broadway, go! Don’t tell me there isn’t something wonderful playing. If I’m home in New York at night, I’m either at a Broadway or an Off Broadway show. We’re in the theater capital of the world, and if you don’t get it, you’re an idiot.”

The Broadway League did not respond to EW‘s request for comment.

UPDATE: Producer Jordan Roth, president of Jujamcyn Theaters, tweeted that his organization’s theaters (which include the homes of Kinky Boots and The Book of Mormon) would dim lights on Tuesday in memory of Rivers.

UPDATE #2: Following Roth’s lead, other theaters will also dim their lights.

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