Drama Desk Awards, which are given annually in a number of categories, are the only major New York City theater honors for which productions on Broadway, Off-Broadway and Off-Off Broadway compete against each other in the same category. Formed in 1949 by a group of New York City theater critics, editors, reporters, and publishers, the organization was created to educate the community on vital issues concerning the theater.
In 1955, Drama Desk became the first major organization to honor Outstanding Achievement Off-Broadway, with their Vernon Rice Awards, named for the late New York Post critic who had pioneered Off-Broadway coverage in the New York press. In 1974, as Off and Off-Off Broadway grew in importance, Drama Desk began what has become its distinct tradition – evaluating all three venues by the same criteria. In 1974 Drama Desk also became incorporated as a not-for-profit organization. In keeping with its original mission, the organization sponsors guest panel luncheons with theater professionals. Panels address topics of current interest – covering the season on Broadway, Off Broadway and Off-Off Broadway, with the aim of prompting informative and stimulating discussion.
All of Drama Desk officers and Nominating Committee members perform their various services for the organization on a voluntary basis. The Nominating Committee generally meets twice a month to discuss the many eligible shows they are responsible for seeing. They then choose the productions for nomination on which the entire membership will vote. What sets the organization apart is that the awards are voted on by media people only without any vested interests in the results.