Everything’s different; nothing’s changed
Only maybe slightly rearranged
So wrote Stephen Sondheim on the subject of marriage, but the lines apply just as easily to awards shows in general, and to the Helen Hayes Awards in particular.
The 2018 ceremony (honoring work that was produced in calendar year 2017) took place last night and the venue was new. Venturing out of Northwest for the first time, the event took place at The Anthem, a just-opened music venue in the Waterfront neighborhood in Southwest DC.
And, unlike the last few years, when the ceremony and the after-party were in different buildings, The Anthem was able to accommodate both parts of the evening.
A thoroughly random, unscientific sampling of folks I spoke with at the party were happy in the new digs.
Amy Austin, President & CEO of theatreWashington, which puts on the event, told me during a brief chat that the organization felt as if the venue was a good fit in terms of capacity. And friends who, the last couple of years, made an early exit from the party at 9:30 Club because the dance music was impossible to escape, this year stayed until the party was over.
My only gripe with the new location involved the draconian and fiercely-enforced policy of no re-entry into the building. And, old-time Hayes-goers will always look back with fondness on the last century, with its open bars and lavish food spreads.
But we can’t cling to the past, try as we might. And if aspects of the evening have changed, it’s still an awards show, with the speeches, the patter, the outfits, the schmoozing.
And, let’s face it: it was long, with the ceremony pushing three hours (with a late start thanks to the deluge).
-There were a few technical glitches, such as when presenter Nanna Ingvarsson had to deftly deal with things when the overhead screen jumped to a winner before she had read the names of that category’s nominees. (And, I’m sorry, theatreWashington: I know that one is supposed to eschew the “W” word, but, if you are going to have competitive prizes for artistic achievement, I think it’s a bit Orwellian to try to police the language that describes a competition.)
-Co-hosts Michael J. Bobbitt and Alyssa Wilmoth Keegan were delightful, and made a strong case for inclusion in any future DC-based version of Dancing with the Stars.
-The year’s Helen Hayes Tribute went to Nancy Robinette. Her remarks were lovely and gracious, and were received warmly by the audience, who joyously rose to their feet to acknowledge the deserved recognition. Presenting it to her, Michael Kahn cheekily made the “perhaps politically incorrect” observation that, in his mind, Robinette’s Hayes-winning Birdie in The Little Foxes was superior to the Tony-winning Birdie of the potential future Governor of New York. And, to prove that the tribute is not meant to be the end of a career, last year’s recipient, Ted van Griethuysen, took home a trophy for his performance in The Father at Studio Theatre.
-Two different productions of In the Heights took Outstanding Musical in both category tiers (Hayes for larger companies, Helen for smaller). What are the chances of that?
-On a personal note, it was touching to see my “Henley-Hardee family” among those who were acknowledged by Frank Britton, who got the Prosky Helen for Jesus Hopped the ‘A’ Train at 1st Stage. (In an attempt to keep speeches brief, recipients submit extended thanks that are projected after their name is announced.) Frank has been a close colleague for many years (in fact, we’re both appearing in The Tempest next month at WSC Avant Bard) and is also a former housemate, so I’m biased, but it is inarguable that Frank is one of the best-loved actors in town, and the enthusiasm when he was called up was special. (It’s kind of a joke among DC actors: everyone knows Frank!)
-And on one more personal note, and at risk of being self-indulgent (but I’m going ahead because it makes a lovely point), I was also so pleased to have been mentioned by Ethan McSweeney. After thanking Michael Kahn for all the opportunities he’s given him, and Eric Schaeffer for giving him his first job (that was Never the Sinner at Signature Theatre), Ethan thanked me for giving him his second job (The Triumph of Love at WSC) and he used it to make a point about how important early opportunities are for emerging artists. He’s gone on to direct on Broadway, and won last night for Twelfth Night at Shakespeare Theatre Company.
And now a few pictures:
Photo 1: My date to what many call “theatre prom” was the beautiful and talented Alyssa Sanders; we both will soon be appearing in The Tempest at WSC Avant Bard.
Photo 2: A pre-awards dinner at Del Mar de Fabio Trabocchi on the Waterfront. The folks there were so nice — once the skies opened up, they popped open umbrellas and escorted us over to the The Anthem. Left to right are Rick Foucheux, Pete Miller, Sara Cormeny, Allyssa Sanders, me, Brian Crane, and Sara Barker.
Photo 3: A funny mini-trend was artists known for one discipline who were recognized for another. Most folks know Debra Kim Sivigny as a costume designer; she won for the set of Forgotten Kingdoms at Rorschach Theatre.
Additionally, Rick Hammerly has been directing for years, but is probably best known as an actor; he won for directing Lela & Co. at Factory 449.
Photo 4: Actor Emily Townley was one of the evening’s presenters; Patrick Folliard is an arts journalist (The Blade). Part of the fun of Helen Hayes is the chance for actors and critics to get to mingle.
Photo 5: Another year, another award in another category (this year for a musical) for Kari Ginsburg (The Wild Party, Constellation Theatre Company). Here she is looking gorgeous and posing with her dapper husband, actor James Finley.
Photo 6: The man of the hour: Frank Britton. He rushed home and changed out of his tux for something a little more casual for the party. Just kidding! That’s the look he rocked on the stage as he delivered a wonderful speech. “They ask me, who is my favorite company; I say, ‘Whoever casts me’.” The response was so deafening that, unfortunately, it drowned out his closing shout-out to the late actor Reg E. Cathey.
Photo 7: A reunion of sorts: This is me with Nanna Ingvarsson, Rick Hammerly, and Brian Hemmingsen — all of us were part of WSC’s 1991 production of Hamlet. On the end is the hardest working man in DC theatre, Michael Kyrioglou, tW’s Theatre Services Manager, who worked house for WSC back in the early 90s. I swear, I saw Michael clearing a table, and I asked, is there anything you don’t do to make this event go so smoothly?