– Matthew Gardiner, Associate Artistic Director of Signature Theatre, was nominated in 2008 for the Helen Hayes Award for Outstanding Choreography and, in that same year, won Outstanding Director of a Resident Musical, both for Reefer Madness: The Musical at Studio Theatre –
Washington, DC is the most eclectic theatre town. There is theatre for everyone’s taste. I think theatre can be so many things and serve so many purposes. I want every experience in the theatre to be a unique one. I guess I just want compelling storytelling, whether it be an old narrative or a new one. Whether it be the script, or the staging and design, or the actors, or the choreography — or any combination of those — I look for great storytelling that holds my attention and keeps me wanting more.
This year’s nominees for Outstanding Choreography represent some wonderful choreographers working in Washington, and some fantastic fight choreographers as well. I can’t imagine coming to a conclusion about who is the most “Outstanding.” And how you compare fight choreographers to dance choreographers is a bit of a conundrum to me. But there is no doubt that each of the nominees is doing masterful work in their area of expertise.
I unfortunately didn’t see all the work that was nominated, but I can tell you from the list of choreographers and productions that the work is wildly different, and represents how diverse the definition of choreographer can be.
The Walworth Farce was one of my favorite productions in Washington, DC last year, and Robb Hunter’s work as a fight choreographer on it was fantastic. Kate Arnold Wernick (nominated for A Year With Frog and Toad at Adventure Theatre) is a good friend and past collaborator — Kate was actually the dance captain for Reefer Madness at Studio 2ndStage, my first choreography gig in DC. It is no surprise that DC’s best dancer has transitioned to choreography and is making a great name for herself.
And then there is Karma Camp and Brianne Camp’s choreography for Hairspray. I assisted Karma on many productions over the years. My first time working with her was as assistant choreographer on Urinetown at Signature. I consider Karma a mentor and a choreographer that I greatly admire. And Brianne Camp has just graduated from college and is exploding with ideas. Combine the two and you have an amazing team. The audiences danced in the aisles at the end of every performance, and that is a testament to how Karma and Brianne’s work impacted that production. It was inventive, athletic, and truly unique.
There were so many rewarding experiences in the theatre this past year. Aaron Posner’s production of Lungs at Studio Theatre was an incredible evening of theatre, with two fantastic actors. So simple and yet truly profound. The Walworth Farce kept me on the edge of my seat the entire time.
But Follies will go down for me as one of the greatest theatrical events I have experienced in this city or elsewhere. (And no, I don’t say that because Eric Schaeffer is my boss.) For a long time Follies has been one of my favorite scores, and I wasn’t sure when I would ever get a chance to see it fully produced the way it should be done. Seeing it with that cast and with full orchestration at the Kennedy Center was an inspiring moment for me.
Speaking of some fantastic work this past season: there was Warren Carlyle’s remarkable choreography for Follies. Still scratching my head over how that was overlooked.
New work is where my heart is. From my perspective that is what I want to do. It’s what I’m always seeking out as a theatregoer. However, sitting in multiple empty houses here in DC after glowing reviews for many great new plays makes me wonder — where’s our appetite for new work? Building that appetite requires the community. Artists, audiences — and unfortunately most important: the press — all need to champion new works. For me there is nothing more rewarding as an artist than working on a new play or a new musical. And all of my most rewarding moments as a theatre goer have been with new plays or musicals.
So I would like to do more of that, yes, but I don’t think that new plays are the only source of inspiration. Directors, designers, and actors can infuse an old narrative with very compelling new ideas as well.
Guess who'll receive the Helen Hayes Award for Choreography
- Brianne Camp, Karma Camp for Hairspray (45%, 15 Votes)
- Irina Tsikurishvili, and Ben Cunis for King Lear (18%, 6 Votes)
- Robb Hunter for Walworth Farce (18%, 6 Votes)
- Susan Shields for STAY (9%, 3 Votes)
- Michael Bobbitt, and Fabian Barnes for Mirandy and Brother Wind (6%, 2 Votes)
- Kate Arnold Wernick for A Year with Frog and Toad (3%, 1 Votes)
- Dale Anthony Girard for Cyrano (0%, 0 Votes)
Total Voters: 33