This past Monday evening, the 30th annual Helen Hayes Awards were handed out at the National Building Museum in DC and for the first time I was privileged to be in attendance.
As you might know, this year’s award show was done in a less formal format with the party and awards show in the same location. Previously, the awards were handed out first at the Warner Theatre with the party being in another location.
The clever opening number penned by Christopher Youstra and performed by the snazzy trio of Ashleigh King, Rachel Zampelli and Sam Ludwig, proclaimed this year’s awards would be faster than in years past. They were right. Each recipient only had 30 seconds to give their acceptance speech and if they went over time, there would be a musical goodbye type song from the trio to get them offstage. For the most part everyone was on time while Best Actress in a Resident Play recipient Dawn Ursula purposefully went over time to have her own playoff. After seeing her in The Convert at Woolly Mammoth, she was more than entitled to that privilege.
Another new edition this year was breaking the awards into three “acts” with two twenty minute intermissions to give people a chance to schmooze. I understand what Theatre Washington was going for with the whole thing about wanting the evening to be one big party, but from the first break in the awards, it became quite evident that the recipients had their work cut out for them. By the time we hit longtime champion of DC theatre Victor Shargai’s acceptance speech, the room was so loud, you could not hear a word that this distinguished honoree was saying.
It was very nice however to see so many of the area’s theatre veterans mixed with up and coming performers all in the same room. Accept for the Helen Hayes Awards, I don’t know of any party where stalwarts Kimberly Schraf, Rick Foucheux and Donna Migliaccio would be in the same room with newer performers like Shayna Blass and Sam Edgerly. It was like bridging the old and the new generations of performer together and that was one of the wonderful things about the night.
Here is my big question after attending the Helen Hayes Awards. How do you keep the informal party atmosphere that Theatre Washington wanted while giving the respect to the honorees that they deserve? It seems to me that the award show still needs to be kept separate from the party. The awards don’t have to be as long as the Oscars (nothing should be) but with the new format next year of Helen and Hayes awards, I’m going to be curious if Theatre Washington combines awards and partying together again.
Overall I did enjoy a lot of the night as did my guest, longtime theatre supporter Barbara Bear, and it was very nice to see many of the theatre community’s best all dolled up.
In the end I am going to quote an Edward Albee play title to sum up my first Helen Hayes Awards experience. It’s A Delicate Balance to put on what Theatre Washington did. The show has lots of moving parts as does the party. Here’s hoping they can work out how to give full attention to the awards and the recipients while throwing one big bash for our close knit and oh so talented DC theatre community.
Below is MD Theatre Guide’s video of last years Helen Hayes Awards, featuring highlights.