Helen Hayes Awards’ new compensation requirements – what they are and what companies fear they will lose

This summer, Washington, DC passed The Minimum Wage Amendment Act raising the minimum wage standard to $9.50 per hour. By 2017, that hourly wage will be $11.50, figures well below what some theatre professionals are paid. theatreWashington has just issued professional compensation guidelines which apply to the Helen Hayes Awards, effective as of 2016.

At that time, professional Washington-area theatre companies will need to meet minimal wage criteria to be eligible for the annual Helen Hayes Awards, DC Theatre Scene learned yesterday.

Under the new wage requirements: Actors would be paid a minimum of $12.50 per rehearsal and $18.75 per performance. Minimums for directors would be $750, for music directors, choreographers and designers,  $500. In addition, playwrights would receive 6% of the production’s gross receipts unless the producing company acquires the play from a publisher.

Andrew Griffin wrote a related piece for DCTS: A liveable wage is our right and our responsibility

The compensation requirements come on the heels of the decision by the theatreWashington Board of Directors last year to divide the Helen Hayes Awards into the “Helens” and the “Hayes” based on the degree to which members of Equity, the Actor’s union, participate in a production.

“We at theatreWashington represent a community of theatremakers with annual budgets from $5,000 – $28,000,000,”Brad Watkins, Director of Theatre Services for theatreWashington, told DCTS today. “theatreWashington is here to help market all professional (those who pay performers) companies, regardless of size. This in no way affects the marketing efforts all companies receive from theatreWashington or their place on the theatreWashington website.

“For years, the most common feedback we got from companies is that they want the Helen Hayes Awards to be judged on a level playing field,” Watkins said. The Philadelphia Barrymore Awards, parallel in many cases except for size of the community, faced the same challenges and instituted similar wage criteria.

Starting in January, theatreWashington will be holding a series of invitation-only small group forums for artistic and managing directors, and anyone they may designate. Those forums will take place January 28 at 7pm, January 29 at 3pm, February 2 at 2pm and 7pm at the theatreWashington office in Crystal City, VA. And today, theatreWashington created a new page, explaining the current and future eligibility guidelines.

Those wishing to send comments directly to theatreWashington can do so through this link.

Concerning the timing of the announcement, Watkins said “We wanted to give companies  a year to gear up fundraising in order to meet the new eligibility.  theatreWashington will be sorting through all feedback received, and, he added, “We don’t know where this will end.”  Under the new guidelines, Helen Hayes judges will only attend those productions which meet the conpensation criteria.

Read this: more in our series on the Helen Hayes professional wage requirements

Concluding, Watkins said “We want to continue to move towards more stability and growth for the theatre community as a whole.  We hope this discussion will be a stepping stone to a stronger community, and not a fork in the road.”

DC Theatre Scene has received several emails protesting these new criteria from small stage companies, fearing the effect it will have on their ability to produce a full season. One example comes from Michael Wright, Artistic Director of SeeNoSun: “SeeNoSun is considered an “emerging theater” for 2014 and 2015 by theatreWashington. In 2016, we would be eligible for full status under current rules but the new rules may create a budget shortfall we may not be able to overcome should we try and remain eligible for Helen Hayes Awards.

“While these new guidelines are devastating to the small theater community in DC, because of the politics involved, many companies may be reluctant to speak up.”

Lorraine Treanor About Lorraine Treanor

Lorraine Treanor has been editor of DC Theatre Scene since 2006. She has produced plays and concerts in her hometown of Chicago, and twice in the Capital Fringe festival. Her daughter Nina Norris is an artist working in Chicago. Life's a blast because she shares it with writer Tim Treanor.


  1. There is one bit of information about this that is confusing and inconsistent between this article and the information posted by TheatreWashington. You list a Per rehearsal or per performance per diem, but their information also lists a per week amount. Is it one or the other, in which case which takes precedence? The greater or lesser amount? Or is it both which is a much higher figure?

    • All good questions that I’m sure will be worked out further. The individual day rates were given to my during my talk with Brad Watkins, which recognizes that the number of rehearsal and performance days will vary, depending on the company.



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