Attendees at this year’s Helen Hayes Awards will no longer be confined to their plush velvet seats inside the Warner Theatre. TheatreWashington, the organization that oversees the awards, announced this morning that the ceremony will take place at the National Building Museum on April 21. The venue change coincides with a previously announced overhaul of the Helen Hayes Awards system that will increase the number of awards given from 27 to as many as 47 beginning in 2015.
Instead of audience members facing the Warner Theatre stage and merely watching the show, the ceremony at the Building Museum will feature two stages and many fewer seats. According to Linda Levy, president and chief executive of TheatreWashington, the affair will be more open, allowing members of the theater community to get up and mingle with each other during the event. “We need to have a more active rather than passive experience,” she says. “When you sit in the theater, you are sitting and waiting. You’re not doing, you’re not participating.” Think of it as less like the Oscars and more like the Golden Globes—-which is what City Paper contributor Sophia Bushong recommended last year.
Traditional elements of the awards will remain, including the black-tie dress code, performances from nominated shows, and the John Aniello Award for Emerging Theater Company. After consulting with about 200 members of Washington’s theater community at a town hall last June, Levy says that many of them wanted the awards to honor the close-knit quality of the town’s theater scene. Because of the change in structure that will begin with the 2015 awards, a more flexible format is required. “Next year, we could be looking at the presentation of as many as 47 awards,” says Levy. “How are we going to do that? We didn’t want to invent breakfast theater, and sitting there for four hours is unacceptable.”
Now guests can eat, drink, and stretch their legs without squeezing past awkwardly folding seats and making noise. Helen Hayes Award nominations will be announced at 7:15 p.m. on Jan. 27 at the National Theatre and live via webcast on theatrewashington.org.