Those involved in producing theatre in our area in 2016 will be holding their collective breath as nominees for the 2017 Helen Hayes Awards are announced tonight. On what is conceivably one of her busiest days of the year, Amy Austin, theatreWashington’s “I’ve got this” President, took a moment to give us some appreciation of the work that goes into producing tonight’s list of nomineees.
The Helen Hayes Awards program is administered by theatreWashington. The list of nominees is the work of 40 Helen Hayes Awards judges. Each of 2016’s 200 productions were seen by 5 to 10 judges. “I find them to be an extraordinary volunteer group.” Austin said. “It requires a great deal of time and energy. They commit to being on a panel for three years. They often can’t plan anything for their weeks or weekends until they know when they are seeing their shows.”
More is required of Helen Hayes judges than attending shows. theatreWashington provides these seasoned theatre goers with specific ongoing training. Austin explained, “We meet with the judges four times a year; artists come in to discuss their process.” Her favorite last year was the gathering of choreographers and fight choreographers. They also hear from directors, actors and the technical designers.
Theatre companies and judges gathering tonight at 7:00 pm in the intimate Helen Hayes Gallery of the National Theatre will be there to hear the reading of 5 (sometimes more) nominees for the 94 award nominations, identified as Helen or Hayes awards. The task of making the announcements has been given to Bonnie Nelson Schwartz, Founder of the Helen Hayes Awards, costume designer Deb Sivigny, actors Frank Britton, Jade Jones and Susan Lynskey, and Robert Aubrey Davis, host of WETA’s Around Town, known to many for his memorable stage debut as Edna in Hairspray at Signature.
When asked about the sometimes surprising nominee selections, Austin said “The nature of this is that there are a lot of people not on the list who deserve to be. There are 2,853 items [being tabulated].” Some might miss being nominated by as little as one point, I said. Austin agreed. “What I see is that this is celebrating some really fantastic work.”
While the list is a closely held secret, even to Austin when we spoke today, five theatres which are eligible for an award have already been announced. New producing companies are created every year in our town. The Helen Hayes Awards recognizes the contribution these companies make to the continued growth of our community with the John Aniello Award for Outstanding Emerging Theatre Company. This year’s nominees, who have been actively producing for two years, are: Convergence Theatre, InterAct Story Theatre, Mosaic Theater Company of DC, Nu Sass Productions, and Rainbow Theatre Project.
The full list of Helen Hayes nominees will be online by 9:00 pm tonight.
The Helen Hayes Awards celebration will be held May 15, 2017 at the Lincoln Theatre, 1215 U Street NW, hosted by E. Faye Butler, with the after-party at the nearby 9:30 Club. Tickets for the combined Awards Ceremony and Dance Party are $275 for premium seating, $150 for balcony seating and will be on sale by March 1 at theatreWashington.org