Meet Philip Romano, Who's Been to 9 Tony Awards as a Seat Filler | Playbill

Tony Awards Meet Philip Romano, Who's Been to 9 Tony Awards as a Seat Filler

He's also been spotted on the telecast multiple times. How does one get such an illustrious gig?

Philip Romano

It takes a whole lot of bodies to put on a show like the Tony Awards. With camera crews, nominees, publicists, friends and family, creative teams, journalists, producers, and everyone in between occupying the same small space, it can be difficult to coordinate who needs to be where, when.

Enter seat fillers. As different members of the audience make their way too and from the stage over the course of Tonys nights, the intrepid individuals known as seat fillers have the important job of making sure an empty seat is never seen on the live CBS (and now Pluto) broadcast. After all, no one wants to see two rows of empty space while a cast is on stage performing! 

While seat fillers are traditionally instructed to blend in as they hop from seat to seat throughout the evening, Philip Romano, who's been a Tony Awards seat filler for nine ceremonies, has almost become an easter egg of the event itself, with many theatre fans actively looking for him in all crowd shots.

"Whenever someone wins, they're gone for a bit to do interviews and stuff with you all backstage," Romano explained to Playbill the day after the 77th Tony Awards telecast where he was, once again, filling seats. "And across the evening, people come back and forth to the bathroom, big groups of producers will get together before their category, casts have to leave to get into costume for their numbers...there are so many reasons why we're there to fill in seats."

Philip Romano and Daniel Radcliffe at the 77th Annual Tony Awards

Romano got his start as a Tony seat filler in 2013, while still in college. Above all else, the defining characteristic needed for a seat filler is discretion; no one wants to be bothered mid ceremony by a stranger rushing them for an autograph. It helps that Romano is a working member of the theatre community in his own right; currently working as a headshot photographer and graphic designer, Romano has served as a videographer and marketing associate for numerous major theatre publications and institutions. Most notably, he worked on the Broadway productions of Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812, The Book of Mormon, The Parisian Woman, The Encounter, and more.

Because of his industry work and his prolific seat filling, the Tony ceremony often feels more like a reunion than work for Romano. "I'm friendly with lots of people. I've known Kara Young for several years now, and it was such a thrill–I actually happened to move into a seat front and center right before she won, which was incredible. Shaina Taub and I have known each other for over 10 years now. Andrew Butler, in the cast of Stereophonic, is a great friend. It's incredible getting to be there for these moments with them." 

The process to become a seat filler has become more and more difficult for newcomers in recent years, as venue capacities shrink and a roster of trusted seat fillers like Romano return year after year. The role is unpaid, and requires adherence to rules that could give theatre fans pause. It isn't unusual for seat fillers to not be able to watch a performance all the way through as they run from one side of the room to the other, filling in gaps before the camera turns back on the audience.

Philip Romano

The organizers of the seat filler program have changed several times across Romano's tenure, but he has a particular fondness for the current curators, Shadow Casting. "They like to describe it as the most intense game of musical chairs you'll ever play. They have a great team and are really good at making sure everyone has a wonderful experience while still getting the job done."

Romano has become something of an easter egg for theatre fans and colleagues over the years, with nominees connecting with him for photos during the ceremony as a good luck charm. Over the years, he has ended up center screen more times than he can count, due to his always joyous reactions, his willingness to play along with audience interaction, and of course, his recognizable round glasses and colorful suits.

"For the first few years, I did the regular black and white tux, because I didn't want to ruffle any feathers. But over the years, I've started to have more fun with it," As Romano recalls his favorite outfits of years past, one immediately leaps to mind. "My favorite outfit might still be 2019; I wore a red Smokey Joe's Cafe costume jacket. And look, glasses wise, I've always had round glasses—not because of Harry Potter. But I've always gotten that comparison since I was young. And then in the pandemic, I discovered a lot of affordable glasses sources and went a little crazy. Now I have like 26 or 27 pairs of glasses, so my biggest thing every year is deciding which glasses to I wear. They've really become my trademark accessory, in addition to my needing them to see."

Philip Romano

About that Harry Potter comparison: Eight years ago, Romano went viral on the internet for his resemblance to the book character after a photo of him and Daniel Radcliffe following a matinee of Privacy was posted to the internet by Romano's father.

"My whole life, people have told me I look like him. I will say, I have never thought I look like Daniel. The Harry Potter comparison, I get, but I do not see Daniel and I as the same at all." The pair took the innocuous photo, with Romano thinking it would make some of his close friends and family smile after watching him dodge the comparison for decades. Instead, it took on a life of its own. "My dad posted it on Reddit, and said, 'My son looks more like Harry Potter than Harry Potter.' And for whatever reason, it just went extremely viral. For many years, like every two or three months, some new meme page will post it, usually with that same caption. It's been a very strange thing."

He isn't exaggerating. Numerous articles have been written about the photo's continued virality, with other celebrities coming to social media to comment on the resemblance. 

Cut to last night, when Radcliffe won a Tony for his performance in Merrily We Roll Along, and Romano was directed to take his seat next to Radcliffe's wife, actress Erin Darke.

"I was there for four or five segments with his wife Erin, and we got to talking. After the show, I saw them on their way out, and we got another picture together; I couldn't quite tell if he was already familiar with it, but once he knew what was going on, he immediately said, 'Well, we should take a nice one together!' Eight years later, and we are out of the t-shirts and into our suits."

Philip Romano and Daniel Radcliffe

While a work commitment in 2014 and the pandemic have kept Romano from crossing into double digits with seat-filing duties, nine Tony Awards ceremonies is not too shabby. When asked about his favorite memories, Romano can't pick just one. 

"In 2018, Once on this Island brought the goats from the production down the aisles. And there's a moment where they were trying to get Nathan Lane to feed the goat, and he refused to feed the goat. And I was sitting one seat in front of him, so when they went to commercial break, it was to a shot of me feeding this goat lettuce." Though the 2024 ceremony is one for the books, he says, "Last night, when Alicia Keys came to the audience, she saw me on the end. And when she came down, she grabbed my arm on her way out."

But if Romano had to pick one: "Nothing compares to the very first year, and that incredible opening number 'Bigger' [with 2013 host Neil Patrick Harris]. I was sitting right in the center, a little bit back, watching this incredible thing unfold. It was magic."

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