Who doesn’t love #dramaprom?
On Monday, May 13th, your local favorite theatre makers decked themselves out to the nines and trekked on down to The Anthem at the Wharf to celebrate and relive all the ups and downs of 2018. theaterWashington’s production of the Annual Helen Hayes Awards is truly a special time of year for the theatre community and last night was no exception.
Since the nominees and a good chunk of the guests are working artists in both Awards categories (Helen AND Hayes), the community rarely gets to come together in such a way. As such, it is a night full of reunions which started on the waterfront and flowed into the lobby of The Anthem; people saying hi to long-lost friends and colleagues, doing quick 20-second catch ups before the next long-lost friend and colleague comes into view. People show off their immaculately curated outfits and marvel at their friends’ ensembles. The energy in the air is electric, and that’s even before the ceremony begins.
Two of last year’s big winners, Felicia Curry and Rick Hammerly, guided us through the night, both dressed in their very finest, and beaming with pride for nominees and winners. They even joined in in thanking those who helped them get where they are, and celebrating the people they loved from their position at the podium, making sure that the night was truly, above all, about love. Love for the craft, love for one another, and love for the people who have supported us in our careers.
Highlights of the evening involve beloved local Tuyet Thi Pham arriving moments after her name was called, announcing her “Best Supporting Actress In a Play – Helen” (tied with the inimitable Mary Myers). With her friend JJ Johnson stepping up to the podium and announcing to the room: “Tuyet’s walking in the door now!”, followed by some panicked ad-libbing as the bewildered Tuyet steps into the room and is promptly ushered up onto the stage and handed her award.
“I just got off work,” she said.
Which perfectly sums up the life of a working theatre artist.
All through the night, people’s heartfelt speeches filled The Anthem, with loud rallying cries for increasing diversity, equity, and inclusivity, on taking chances on new artists, and on building upon the already fastest growing theatre community in the nation. Calls to keep the fight alive in the arts, as well as shows of radical love exemplified the fire and passion of which this community is capable, and reverberated deeply in the pride of those around us.
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Women and Femme Artists of Color rocked the stage this year with amazing wins like Regina Aquino (Outstanding Actress in a Play, Helen), and Erika Rose (Outstanding Actress in a Play, Hayes). Natsu Onoda Power (Outstanding Set Design, Helen and Outstanding Original Play or Musical Adaptation for Lathe of Heaven at Spooky Action). Coupled with the beautiful (and sometimes delightfully unscripted) speech by Helen Hayes Tribute Jennifer L. Nelson, it was hard to feel anything other than incredibly lucky to have such amazing women in our community, lighting the torches and leading the way. This is not to say that our white and male and white male recipients are in any way less deserving; simply it’s nice to see the ratio shift a little.
It was hard not to be moved when the Ensemble of The Scottsboro Boys from Signature took the stage and Andre Hinds declared that “Black is Beautiful”, especially given the political climate around us.
As usual, we had the very aggressive piano letting us know when the speeches went on too long, but this year’s recipients all seemed to play it off with the general wit and pleasantness that I truly adore about this community. While there were no little performances other than a few fun bits between announcements, the ceremony itself still felt nigh upon Avengers: Endgame length.
After (and also probably during?) there were mac and cheese stations, candy buckets, and apparently a table of hoagies and other sandwiches for recipients, as well as the much partaken of bars. Food wise, it seemed infinitely better than last years “Sandwiches in the dark” routine, where dark alleys had tables with surprise sandwiches for the hungry. theatreWashington and The Anthem seemed to have taken the critiques to heart, providing what seemed to be an excellent night, commonly agreed upon by exiting patrons to have been one of the better ones in the recent years.
But of course, even as I write this; productions are already under way. Concepts are being dreamed, perhaps at 2 am, a playwright is hunched over their laptop furiously typing away…already creators, the raison d’être for these celebrations, are already hard at work.
I am not a fan of awards, but I am a big fan of this community. Before 2013, the year when the categories split into “Helen and Hayes,” the awards had seemed to favor shows with bigger budgets. With this system, of course, shows are adjudicated regardless of budget. Still, if one is honored, and a few nodded at, what of the rest of the hard work, sweat, and blood that goes unrecognized? In my heart of hearts, I wish there to be some sort of tribute to the Stage Managers and Production Managers, and the theatre technicians, and all the people who work in the shadows to make sure that these shows run.
Nevertheless, it is so nice to mingle and celebrate with the beating heart of our thriving theatre scene, and I cannot wait for next year’s celebration.