09/20/2018

When True Love Conquered the Emmys

By MARK BLANKENSHIP

In retrospect, you can see that Glenn Weiss is nervous from the beginning of his Emmy speech. On stage to accept his award for directing the Oscars, he starts with a shuddering breath and lets out a little “whoo!”, like he’s preparing to dive off a cliff. Which, in a way, he is. 

You may have heard why he was so worked up. In what was easily the most striking moment of this year’s ceremony (held on September 17), Weiss used his acceptance speech to propose to his longtime girlfriend, Jan Svendsen (who worked for years at the Broadway League). Like Leslie Jones, the entire audience (both in the room and on social media) seemed startled. But most importantly, they were moved. You could see waves of emotion sweeping through the room and across the internet. It was exceptional.

No wonder his proposal went viral. In less than 12 hours, the official Television Academy video received over 180,000 views on YouTube. For those of us in the arts, that’s a great reminder about what makes people respond.

For one thing, Weiss’ romantic gesture feels incredibly real. A public wedding proposal can tip into schmaltz or showy insincerity, but Weiss, who’s known in the theater community for directing and producing many Tony Awards broadcasts, demonstrates the power of genuine vulnerability. He starts by referencing his late mother, who passed just a few weeks ago. “Part of my heart is broken,” he says. “And I don’t think it will ever be repaired.”

However, he adds, “Mom always believed in finding the sunshine in things, and she adored my girlfriend, Jan.” The proposal comes shortly thereafter, and Weiss’ plainspoken, plainly nervous set-up – not to mention Svendsen’s lovely reaction – underscores the moment’s sincerity. We’re given the privilege of watching two people take a big risk. We know that the power of grief is making room for the power of love.

This tears through the telecast’s polished veneer. The jolt of unscripted honesty reminds viewers (and attendees) that the Emmys are a live, unpredictable event.

What a superb example for those of us who create and market live experiences. Are we making room for the spontaneous? Are we equipped to support it and even celebrate it when it happens? This isn’t to suggest we stop rehearsing or planning, but let’s remember how it impacts our craft when we make space for people to speak and act freely. Think of how much our work can benefit from a surge of dazzling, impulsive honesty.