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Tony honorees shine a spotlight on behind-the-scenes crafts

A few behind-the-scenes members of the Broadway community took a brief pause from work Monday night to celebrate their Tony Honors.

Sara Krulwich speaks onstage at Sofitel Hotel on June 4, 2018. (Photo by Jenny Anderson/Getty Images for Tony Awards Productions)

A few behind-the-scenes members of the Broadway community took a brief pause from work Monday night to celebrate their Tony Honors.

At the Tony Awards Honors cocktail party, New York Times theater photographer Sara Krulwich, costume beader Bessie Nelson and Bruce and Sarah Barish of Ernest Winzer Cleaners, the dry cleaner and dyer of Broadway, received their Tony Honors for Excellence in Theatre. Taking the stage in front of this year’s Tony nominees, these honorees of the theater community used the opportunity to shine a light on their crafts.

Krulwich, who was taking photos while on stage, recounted trying to turn her passion for theater into a career at the Times. After working at the Times since the late 1970s and later being named its culture photographer, Krulwich tried to get into theaters to photograph Broadway shows and better represent what was happening on stage. But she initially faced pushback from producers and press agents.

“When you say ‘no pictures’ to a news photographer, it’s kind of like just saying ‘Hello,’” Krulwich said in her speech. “It’s the beginning of the conversation.”

After three to four years of persistence, Krulwich was granted access and now covers every Broadway show as well as many off-Broadway shows.

The Tony Honors are meant to recognize those who have demonstrated extraordinary achievement in theater, but are not eligible in other established Tony Award categories. Monday night’s event also recognized special Tony Award recipients, including Nick Scandalios, executive vice president of the Nederlander Organization, who will receive this year’s Isabelle Stevenson Tony Award.

Nelson, who has worked as a beading designer in Hollywood and on Broadway for more than 70 years, dedicated her award to the costume designers she has worked with over the years, including William Ivey Long, Catherine Zuber and Bob Mackie, as well as the many others who help build the costumes.

“Behind the scenes, there are unsung heroes that work so hard to get the production going and I’m going to dedicate this honor to them tonight,” Nelson said.

Honorees Bruce and Sarah Barish also deal in Broadway costumes, but after they have been fully-realized and worn on stage. Their dry-cleaning business, which works with 95% of Broadway shows, is still in full swing 110 years after it was founded by Bruce’s grandfather.

“I don’t have anything written down, because I’ve been up since midnight, cleaning the 30 shows that we picked up,” Bruce Barish said on stage.

Like Krulwich and the Barishes, Nelson has been working hard this season, doing the beadwork on costumes for “Frozen” and for the Boston production of “Moulin Rouge.”

After the Tony Award festivities end, Nelson is flying back home to San Diego, where she will be working on another gown. And that’s what she plans to keep doing for the foreseeable future.

“It’s been a blast, and I won’t stop till the whistle blows and I hear the harps of the angels,” Nelson said.