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If last year’s Helen Hayes Awards ceremony at the National Building Museum was one of those raucous 5k runs with glow-in-the-dark headwear and boom-boxes blasting EDM, this year’s at the Lincoln Theatre was an unceremonious sprint.
TheatreWashington’s controversial decision to split every category of the awards in two this year—-giving out a “Hayes” to a production whose cast mostly belonged to Actors’ Equity and a “Helen” to a production cast with mostly non-union talent—-effectively doubled the number of nominees, and the organization was determined to get through them all in under two hours.
That meant no cheeky musical numbers, no emotional acceptance speeches, no time for elaborate jokes from the podium. It meant a rushed, unsentimental introduction from TheatreWashington chairman Kurt Crowl asking winners to “Get to the stage fast, know what you’re going to say, and get off the stage as quickly as you can.”
The result was both exhausting and exhilarating to watch. Winners ran up and down the stage steps, spat out a couple of breathless thank yous, and ran back into the audience before the live quartet could play them off. “I’ve always wanted to be on The Price is Right,” quipped Matthew A. Anderson in his acceptance remarks for the award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Musical (Hayes). The whole thing wrapped up in less than 75 minutes.
Then there were the cost-cutting measures: Attendees got only two drink tickets with admission this year (in the past, the bars, like the arms, were open), and no plus-ones even for nominees. The program, which has usually included photos and short bios of nominees, didn’t even list them this year; it was a simple one-sheet run-of-show.
Erin Weaver was the night’s big individual winner; she netted awards for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Play (Hayes) for her non-speaking role in Arena Stage’s Mother Courage and Her Children; Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Musical (Hayes) for Round House Theatre’s Ordinary Days; and Outstanding Play or Musical Adaptation for The Gift of Nothing, her collaboration with husband Aaron Posner, Patrick McDonnell, and Andy Mitton. Theater Alliance’s Black Nativity showed up strong, too, winning Outstanding Musical (Helen) and Outstanding Ensemble in a Musical (Helen). (It also netted triple nominations for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Musical (Helen).)
While the winners’ names were being speed-read from the podium at the Lincoln Theatre, two-and-a-half miles to the east, a small crowd of theater-folk—-mostly actors, directors, and playwrights associated with small-but-resilient independent companies like Nu Sass Productions and the Washington Rogues—-gathered at the new Capital Fringe headquarters at 1350 Florida Ave. NE to watch TheatreWashington’s webcast of the ceremony projected on the wall of one of the site’s four performance venues. The Fringe bar is ordinarily a Wednesday-to-Saturday operation unless there’s an event programmed. But last night, actors Sun King Davis and Jennifer Osborn both stood behind the bar in crisp white shirts and black bowties, eager to serve thirsty drama nerds.
It was Osborn, who works full time as a booking and events associate for CulturalDC, who came up with the idea of opening up the Fringe space to give those who couldn’t get tickets to the Helen Hayes Awards a place to convene and watch the awards once word got around about how many interested parties had been shut out. Fringe President and CEO Julianne Brienza gave her blessing.
“I call this the Helen Hayes Awards in exile,” said Ryan Taylor, artistic director of the Washington Rogues. “There were so many [artistic directors] who couldn’t get tickets.”
Aubri O’Connor of Nu Sass Productions cited TheatreWashington belt-tightening measures for her party choice. “I know Helen Hayes judges who couldn’t get in,” she said. (On the orchestra level of the Lincoln, it looked like nearly half of the seats were reserved for speakers, nominees, and the like. See above.) By O’Connor’s reckoning, the $100 it would cost to attend the ceremony, not including whatever she might spend making herself look fabulous, would buy a lot more drinks at Fringe.
A few minutes past 8 p.m., just as host Robert Aubry Davis was urging the audience in the Lincoln to take their seats, a single-digit number of people sat in the darkness of Fringe’s ground-floor venue as Maggie Erwin collected the first of the night’s awards, for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Play (Helen). The headcount had grown to about 20 by the time the show wrapped up only 75 minutes later, but the crowd in the adjacent bar had swelled to perhaps 30. O’Connor was among the patrons who dressed as spectacularly as they would’ve if they’d attended the ticketed ceremony. Brienza, too, flitted through the room, resplendent in a blue gown. It might not have been the Lincoln, but even without the running up and down the aisles, the price was right.
View the complete list of winners below.
Outstanding Performer, Visiting Production Tovah Feldshuh, Golda’s Balcony, Theater J
Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Play-HELEN Production Maggie Erwin, Failure: A Love Story, The Hub Theatre
Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Play-HAYES Production Erin Weaver, Mother Courage and Her Children, Arena Stage
The James MacArthur Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Play-HELEN Production Wayne Bennett, Seven Guitars, No Rules Theatre Company
The James MacArthur Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Play-HAYES Production Zachary Fine, The Two Gentlemen of Verona, Folger Theatre
Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Musical-HELEN Production David Jennings, Spamalot, Toby’s Dinner Theatre
Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Musical-HAYES Production Matthew A. Anderson, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, Ford’s Theatre
Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Musical-HELEN Production Miranda Medugno, Visible Language, WSC Avant Bard
Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Musical-HAYES Production Erin Weaver, Ordinary Days, Round House Theatre
Outstanding Lead Actor in a Musical-HELEN Production Alan Naylor, Jacques Brel is Alive and Well & Living in Paris, Creative Cauldron
Outstanding Lead Actor in a Musical-HAYES Production Sam Ludwig, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, Olney Theatre Center
Outstanding Lead Actress in a Musical-HELEN Production Barbara Walsh, Carrie: The Musical, Studio Theatre
Outstanding Lead Actress in a Musical-HAYES Production Brynn O’Malley, Sunday in the Park With George, Signature Theatre
Outstanding Lead Actress in a Play-HELEN Production Nanna Ingvarsson, The Amish Project, Factory 449
Outstanding Lead Actress in a Play-HAYES Production Kimberly Gilbert, Marie Antoinette, Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company
The Robert Prosky Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Play-HELEN Production Doug Wilder, One Man, Two Guvnors, 1st Stage
The Robert Prosky Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Play-HAYES Production Rick Foucheux, Freud’s Last Session, Theater J
Outstanding Sound Design-HELEN Production Matthew M. Nielson and Christopher Baine, The Wonderful World of Dissocia, Theater Alliance
Outstanding Sound Design-HAYES Production Christopher Baine, Colossal, Olney Theatre Center
Outstanding Lighting Design-HELEN Production John Burkland, The Wonderful World of Dissocia, Theater Alliance
Outstanding Lighting Design-HAYES Production Philip S. Rosenberg, Private Lives, Shakespeare Theatre Company
Outstanding Costume Design-HELEN Production Kendra Rai, The Island of Dr. Moreau, Synetic Theater
Outstanding Costume Design-HAYES Production Paul Tazewell, Side Show, The Kennedy Center
Outstanding Set Design-HELEN Production Dan Conway, Tiny Tim’s Christmas Carol, Adventure Theatre MTC
Outstanding Set Design-HAYES Production Eric J. Van Wyk, The BFG, Imagination Stage
Outstanding Choreography in a Play-HELEN Production Irina Tsikurishvili (Choreographer) and Ben Cunis (Fight Choreographer), Twelfth Night, Synetic Theater
Outstanding Choreography in a Play-HAYES Production Ben Cunis (Fight & Movement Choreographer) and Christopher D’Amboise (Choreographer), Colossal, Olney Theatre Center
Outstanding Choreography in a Musical-HELEN Production Mark Minnick, Spamalot, Toby’s Dinner Theatre
Outstanding Choreography in a Musical-HAYES Production Susan Stroman, Little Dancer, The Kennedy Center
Outstanding Musical Direction-HELEN Production e’Marcus Harper-Short, Black Nativity, Theater Alliance
Outstanding Musical Direction-HAYES Production Jon Kalbfleisch, Sunday in the Park With George, Signature Theatre
Outstanding Director of a Musical-HELEN Production Steven Royal, Bat Boy: The Musical, 1st Stage
Outstanding Director of a Musical-HAYES Production Matthew Gardiner, Sunday in the Park With George, Signature Theatre
Outstanding Director of a Play-HELEN Production Colin Hovde and Nathaniel Mendez, The Wonderful World of Dissocia,Theater Alliance
Outstanding Director of a Play-HAYES Production Will Davis, Colossal, Olney Theatre Center
Outstanding Ensemble in a Musical-HELEN Production Black Nativity, Theater Alliance
Outstanding Ensemble in a Musical-HAYES Production Side Show, The Kennedy Center
Outstanding Ensemble in a Play-HELEN Production Twelfth Night, Synetic Theater
Outstanding Ensemble in a Play-HAYES Production The Two Gentlemen of Verona, Folger Theatre
The Charles MacArthur Award for Outstanding Original New Play or Musical Andrew Hinderaker, Colossal, Olney Theatre Center
Outstanding Play or Musical Adaptation Patrick McDonnell, Aaron Posner, and Erin Weaver; Andy Mitton (Music & Lyrics), The Gift of Nothing, The Kennedy Center
Outstanding Visiting Production Brief Encounter, Shakespeare Theatre Company
Outstanding Production, Theatre for Young Audiences The BFG, Imagination Stage
Outstanding Musical-HELEN Production Black Nativity, Theater Alliance
Outstanding Musical-HAYES Production Side Show, The Kennedy Center Sunday in the Park With George, Signature Theatre
Outstanding Play-HELEN Production The Wonderful World of Dissocia, Theater Alliance
Outstanding Play-HAYES Production Cock, Studio Theatre
The John Aniello Award for Outstanding Emerging Theatre Company Flying V
The Washington Post Award for Innovative Leadership in Theatre Community National New Play Network
Photos by Christina Cauterucci