I was a part of the first Helen Hayes Awards in 1985. That day, I discovered that behind some iconic images were some of the greatest people I have ever met.
I rode the elevator with Carol Channing, and rehearsed with her and Carol Lawrence. It was like they’d known me for years. Mary Martin embraced me as if she was genuinely interested in who I was.
I’ve also learned that Helen Hayes’s humanitarian efforts extended into the Pre-Civil Rights Movement. She laid her signature on a document that boycotted the very theatre that inspired her to do what she loves most. I love the inspiration that she brings to artists. The energy that she has put into the universe seems to engulf the whole ceremony.
Throughout the years I have watched many people receive this award, and the reactions vary.
In Costume Design, it’s not just the “best” art for that season that receives recognition, but the best development of that art and the quality of the artists’ choices. So awards don’t just go to the shows that have the biggest budgets, best support, and unlimited resources. It focuses on the creative vision.
Ultimately we are awarded for evolving into the best artists we can be. The award is an extension of the sense of discovery that happened during the journey of that theatre’s vision, and that artist’s vision.
I have received quite a few awards from various cities for the work that I have done throughout the years. Awards tend to baffle me, because you never know who is deciding or what the criteria are exactly. But it’s always nice to receive recognition from your peers for the hard work you place in your vision.
The importance of theatre is indescribable. It’s a visual documentation of who we are and how we live. For me, theatre is a space that allows people, communities, and societies to gather for an experience that embodies any emotion, situation, and subject.
Individuals come together through storytelling. It gives us cathartic moments that can evoke change, educate, entertain, and connect cultures. Theatre breathes new life into those that submerge themselves in it.
I honestly think that we are one of the most, if not the most, diverse theatre communities in this country, if not the world. Who does what we do at such a speedy rate?
I do wish we had more mentors like Helen Huang embracing and educating our young designers. She is magnificent and has an approach that is endearing and right on the money when it comes to conceptualizing a vision. Two of my favorite designers — Kathleen Geldard and Ivania Stack — are her students.
We do our art for the masses to embrace, and we seek approval. It’s an age-old issue, trying to understand and create funding and support for the creative minds that make the art. But I believe the artist mind is capable of forging through all obstacles, especially budget constraints, to brandish the best fresh ideas.
Even if the play was originally created decades ago, we establish new concepts for the artists’ vision so that the work remains current. This attitude trains the creative mind to stay connected to the times, in service to the people, communities and audiences that keep artists ever-evolving.
Joy Zinoman is one of the biggest influences I have ever had in my career. Her ability to commit to a carefully planned vision is incomparable! Vision is what makes all things Transform and evolve into the best they can be. It lays the groundwork, and becomes a vehicle for others to find their greatness.
I am not apologetic for myself and my vision, and I can honestly say I have learned this at Studio Theatre. It’s made me a more interesting, collaborative individual. And being interesting is what will draw me to places and people with interesting visions of their own. That, quite frankly, should get more people to the theatre!
A rewarding experience from this past year? Hands down — Stick Fly going to Broadway! And being able to work with old friends and make new friends. But the most rewarding thing about that project was walking into the first meeting and having the support of my students! Tracie Thoms, playing the role of Taylor. Kamilah Forbes, assistant directing. Sankara McCain and Nijeul Porter. It was an awesome occasion.
Find more tributes to the Nominees on Curtain Call