Helen Hayes Awards

An Evening Of Celebration, But A Lack Of Gravity

By Hans Bachmann

Washington, D.C., April 6, 2105—I have regularly attended the presentation ceremonies for the Helen Hayes Awards celebrating the Washington, D.C. professional theater community and have found myself agreeing with past criticisms that the portion of the festivities handing out the actual awards at one location sometimes has been a leaden and somewhat stuffy affair, which must be withstood in order to get to the really fun part of the event--the after-party at another location. Of course, there was pleasure to be found sitting in the various theaters around town at which the events have been held, cheering on the nominees as they were announced and lauding the friends and coworkers in our profession as they accepted their justly awarded accolades. However, often around the two-and-a-quarter-hour mark in the festivities, the mind wandered to thoughts of “why is this theater seat getting so uncomfortable” or “I can’t wait to see so-and-so at the after party to offer my congratulations” or “will the forecasted rain make walking from the Warner Theater to the Marriott Hotel a misery?”

Last year, a whole new concept was introduced. The festivities were held all in one place: The Building Museum. The main event and the after-party seemed to be taking place simultaneously. A make-shift stage and somewhat uncomfortable chairs were set up in the middle of the venue, but all around there was alternate seating on sofas and overstuffed chairs, and because there were projection screens everywhere, people could sit comfortably—as if they were in their own living rooms—and watch what was happening on stage from the television monitors. Around the edges, food and drinks typically offered at the after-party were being served throughout the ceremonies. For the first time, there was an intermission in the event, I imagine so that the presenters and those sitting in the makeshift seating could get at some of the food before it was all devoured by the other attendees. I left that evening wishing for the more staid presentations I had previously faulted, finding that I missed the more deferential ceremony.

Which brings me to this year’s event. The first portion was held at the Lincoln Theater on the revitalized U Street corridor. I had enjoyed coming to this renovated Washington landmark--most notable for being home to famous African-American performers, such as Duke Ellington, Pearl Bailey, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holliday, and Nat King Cole, before its decline after the 1968 Washington, D.C. riots--while it was one of the temporary venues being used by Arena Stage during its renovation process. I expected the ceremonies to return to their prior form and became apprehensive as to how long this portion of the evening would last, given that now there were twice as many nominees, since each category for the first time had been split in two with “HELEN” awards being presented for non-Equity shows and “HAYES” awards for primarily Equity productions. Well, at least the appreciative solemnity would be restored.

I was wrong on both counts. A slick montage of nominees’ photos underscored by a driving soundtrack helped heighten the feeling of anticipation as attendees entered. Next, the ceremonies began with a short video history of the Lincoln Theater. But before the presentation of awards began, winners were advised to proceed quickly to the stage and cautioned that acceptance speeches would be strictly limited to 30 seconds before the small, on-stage combo would start musically escorting winners off-stage. And so it began.

Maybe because the first few categories were given to actors—and we actors, if nothing else, try to take direction—a certain frenetic tone was set for the evening. Presenters rattled off nominees’ names without mention of the shows for which they were being honored, envelopes were frantically ripped open, names called, and the race began. Winners bolted up to the stage, as if dashing for the finish line, palmed their awards, and breathlessly began acceptance speeches that invariably would be interrupted at the 30-second mark, which seemed to come much too quickly for anyone to express any heart-felt appreciation. I know that the theatreWashington staff only wanted to make sure the evening moved along smoothly and did not get bogged down by long speeches, but by this point, the die had been cast. And we theater folk, if nothing else, like to out-do each other, so each successive recipient appeared to try to race to the stage faster, get through all of their acknowledgements quicker, and find a more comedic way to dash off stage. So much for solemnity.

That is not to say there were no such moments. Hearing-impaired actress Miranda Medugno, who won as Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Musical-HELEN for her role as Helen Keller in WSC Avant Bard’s Visible Language, accepted her award in American Sign Language with an interpreter repeating her words aloud into the microphone, to which the audience responded by signing applause. Sixty-one-year-old actress Tovah Feldshuh, responded to her winning Outstanding Performer, Visiting Production for Golda's Balcony at Theater J by saying she found “this very encouraging.” And Mark Minnick, who won Outstanding Choreography in a Musical-HELEN Production for Spamalot at Toby's Dinner Theatre, told a moving story of his mother’s passing just before he began working on this production.

Barbara Walsh, who won Outstanding Lead Actress in a Musical-HELEN Production for Carrie: The Musical at Studio Theatre, broke the pattern of madcap dashing to the stage, and halfway through the evening, things settled down to a less frenzied pace, aided by the musical combo not interrupting speeches so quickly. But still, solemnity was nowhere in sight. Seventy short minutes later, it was all over, and instead of exiting with a commemorative feeling, I left recalling Miss Peggy Lee’s memorable lyrics, “Is that all there is?”

Attendees headed over to the after-party venue: the similarly newly-restored Howard Theatre—another Washington, D.C. institution that closed in the 1960s but had a rebirth in 2012 and at which speakers like Booker T. Washington once shared the stage with musicals, road shows, vaudeville acts, theater productions, community programs, and musicians from Cab Calloway, Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis, and Sarah Vaughn, followed later by Marvin Gaye, Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding, The Supremes, and James Brown, and now hosting artists such as Keith Sweat, The Harlem Gospel Choir, Shelia E., and others. Once inside, a festive conclusion to the evening took place with good food and drink and an excellent deejay providing great music that kept the dance floor filled the entire time I was there. But before we were admitted, a long line had formed outside the venue (the party planners there had obviously not counted on the first half of the evening‘s festivities ending so quickly and could not let the revelers in for nearly 40 minutes). A couple next to me in line pondered out loud that they felt the awards had lacked gravity. My companion nodded in agreement. I just kept quiet but this time Mr. Sondheim’s lyrics came to mind: “… well maybe next year.”

I offer my heart-felt congratulations to all of the nominees as well as this year’s recipients:

Tovah Feldshuh, Outstanding Performer, Visiting Production, Golda's Balcony - Theater J

Maggie Erwin, Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Play-HELEN Production, Failure: A Love Story - The Hub Theatre

Erin Weaver, Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Play-HAYES Production, Mother Courage and Her Children - Arena Stage

Wayne Bennett, The James MacArthur Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Play-HELEN Production, Seven Guitars - No Rules Theatre Company

Zachary Fine, The James MacArthur Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Play-HAYES Production, The Two Gentlemen of Verona - Folger Theatre

David Jennings, Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Musical-HELEN Production, Spamalot - Toby's Dinner Theatre

Matthew A. Anderson, Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Musical-HAYES Production, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee - Ford's Theatre

Miranda Medugno, Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Musical-HELEN Production, Visible Language - WSC Avant Bard

Erin Weaver, Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Musical-HAYES Production, Ordinary Days - Round House Theatre

Alan Naylor, Outstanding Lead Actor in a Musical-HELEN Production, Jacques Brel is Alive & Well & Living in Paris - Creative Cauldron

Sam Ludwig, Outstanding Lead Actor in a Musical-HAYES Production, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying - Olney Theatre Center

Barbara Walsh, Outstanding Lead Actress in a Musical-HELEN Production, Carrie: The Musical - Studio Theatre

Brynn O'Malley, Outstanding Lead Actress in a Musical-HAYES Production, Sunday in the Park With George - Signature Theatre

Nanna Ingvarsson, Outstanding Lead Actress in a Play-HELEN Production, The Amish Project - Factory 449

Kimberly Gilbert, Outstanding Lead Actress in a Play-HAYES Production, Marie Antoinette - Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company

Doug Wilder, The Robert Prosky Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Play-HELEN Production, One Man, Two Guvnors - 1st Stage

Rick Foucheux, The Robert Prosky Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Play-HAYES Production, Freud's Last Session - Theater J

Matthew M. Nielson and Christopher Baine, Outstanding Sound Design-HELEN Production, The Wonderful World of Dissocia - Theater Alliance

Christopher Baine, Outstanding Sound Design-HAYES Production, Colossal - Olney Theatre Center

John Burkland, Outstanding Lighting Design-HELEN Production, The Wonderful World of Dissocia - Theater Alliance

Philip S. Rosenberg, Outstanding Lighting Design-HAYES Production, Private Lives - Shakespeare Theatre Company

Kendra Rai, Outstanding Costume Design-HELEN Production, The Island of Dr. Moreau - Synetic Theater

Paul Tazewell, Outstanding Costume Design-HAYES Production, Side Show - The Kennedy Center

Dan Conway, Outstanding Set Design-HELEN Production, Tiny Tim's Christmas Carol - Adventure Theatre MTC

Eric J. Van Wyk, Outstanding Set Design-HAYES Production, The BFG - Imagination Stage

Irina Tsikurishvili, (Choreographer) and Ben Cunis (Fight Choreographer), Outstanding Choreography in a Play-HELEN Production, Twelfth Night - Synetic Theater

Ben Cunis, (Fight & Movement Choreographer) and Christopher D'Amboise (Choreographer), Outstanding Choreography in a Play-HAYES Production, Colossal - Olney Theatre Center

Mark Minnick, Outstanding Choreography in a Musical-HELEN Production, Spamalot - Toby's Dinner Theatre

Susan Stroman, Outstanding Choreography in a Musical-HAYES Production, Little Dancer - The Kennedy Center

e'Marcus Harper-Short, Outstanding Musical Direction-HELEN Production, Black Nativity - Theater Alliance

Jon Kalbfleisch, Outstanding Musical Direction-HAYES Production, Sunday in the Park With George - Signature Theatre

Steven Royal, Outstanding Director of a Musical-HELEN Production, Bat Boy: The Musical - 1st Stage

Matthew Gardiner, Outstanding Director of a Musical-HAYES Production, Sunday in the Park With George - Signature Theatre

Colin Hovde and Nathaniel Mendez, Outstanding Director of a Play-HELEN Production, The Wonderful World of Dissocia - Theater Alliance

Will Davis, Outstanding Director of a Play-HAYES Production, Colossal - Olney Theatre Center

Black Nativity - Theater Alliance, Outstanding Ensemble in a Musical-HELEN Production

Side Show - The Kennedy Center, Outstanding Ensemble in a Musical-HAYES Production

Twelfth Night - Synetic Theater, Outstanding Ensemble in a Play-HELEN Production

The Two Gentlemen of Verona - Folger Theatre, Outstanding Ensemble in a Play-HAYES Production

Andrew Hinderaker, The Charles MacArthur Award for Outstanding Original New Play or Musical,

Colossal - Olney Theatre Center

Patrick McDonnell, Aaron Posner, and Erin Weaver, and Andy Mitton, (Music & Lyrics), Outstanding Play or Musical Adaptation, The Gift of Nothing - The Kennedy Center

Brief Encounter - Shakespeare Theatre Company, Outstanding Visiting Production

The BFG - Imagination Stage, Outstanding Production, Theatre for Young Audiences

Black Nativity - Theater Alliance, Outstanding Musical-HELEN Production

Side Show - The Kennedy Center, which tied with Sunday in the Park With George - Signature Theatre, Outstanding Musical-HAYES Production

The Wonderful World of Dissocia - Theater Alliance, Outstanding Play-HELEN Production

Cock - Studio Theatre, Outstanding Play-HAYES Production

Flying V, The John Aniello Award for Outstanding Emerging Theatre Company,


National New Play Network, The Washington Post Award for Innovative Leadership in Theatre Community


Preview by Verna Kerans, Editor/Publisher

It’s that time again!!!!

I cannot believe the Helen Hayes Awards is celebrating its 30th year. Where has all that time gone? I always like to recall that I was there for the very first awards night when Miss Hayes was there herself to open the festivities. I talked to Helen Hayes and reminisced with her about her last appearance on stage at Catholic University's Hartke Theatre when she appeared for the last time in Long Day’s Journey Into Night. I was working on the show and made her a chocolate cake. She remembered everything and we had a fine chat.

The 2014 30th Helen Hayes Awards take place on April 21st. Tickets are now on sale and this year the Awards are going to be held in a new venue. The Building Museum (map here) will play host to this wonderful gathering.

Last year we were at the Warner Theatre where the awards had been for quite a few years. Then, the biggest cast party ever went over to the Marriott Hotel where there was dining, drinking and dancing. We are looking forward to being together in a new venue, but if you think you had trouble finding someone at the Marriott, well, good luck in this huge building finding your best friend unless you have prearranged a meeting spot. Bring your cell phone!!

Before the awards last year, we ( reviewer Summer Donaldson and I) attended a small press party and met Ellen Burstyn. She was easy to talk to and interesting. She was delighted to be the honored guest at the 29-year celebration of Washington Theatre Awards.

Ellen Burstyn was an awardee at the 29th Annual Helen Hayes Awards. Publisher of, Verna Kerans (right),and
reviewer Summer Donaldson (left) were pleased to spend a few moments speaking with the respected actress. Photo © Summer Donaldson.

One of the country’s most prestigious cultural honors, since 1985 the Helen Hayes Awards has celebrated outstanding achievement in over 80 professional theatres throughout the Washington metropolitan area. Named for the legendary First Lady of the American Theatre, nominated artists and companies exemplify the excellence found on all Washington stages, and therefore propel Washington as a nationally and internationally recognized theatre town.

The Helen Hayes Awards honors and celebrates that work and, by so doing, brings national attention to our region's greatest cultural resource. Artistic achievement is awarded in 26 categories as well as two special awards: The Helen Hayes Tribute for an extraordinary contribution to the American theatre and The Washington Post Award for Innovative Leadership in the Theatre Community. Every year, artistic, corporate, philanthropic, social, and political leaders join together to honor these collective efforts which have established Washington as the second most prolific theatre town in the country.

For this year's 30th Annual Helen Hayes Awards, we're pulling out all the stops to ensure a celebration our theatre community will remember for years to come. We'll be celebrating at the phenomenal National Building Museum, with an event unlike any we've held before.

Mark your calendar for Monday, April 21!

TICKETS ARE ON SALE NOW AND CAN BE ORDERED BY CALLING. We want to make sure your order is taken personally. Email Box Office manager Lindsay Gaughan at or call her directly at 202-337-4572.

Actors' Equity Association
 to Receive Helen Hayes Tribute
at the 29th Helen Hayes Awards, Monday April 8, 2013

Washington, DC – The prestigious Helen Hayes Tribute – presented every year at the Washington’s annual celebration of professional theatre, The Helen Hayes Awards – will be presented to Actors’ Equity Association, the union that serves and protects professional actors and stage managers nationwide, on the occasion of the organization’s 100th Anniversary.  The Helen Hayes Tribute, sponsored by the late Jaylee Mead, annually recognizes distinguished theatre professionals who exemplify great commitment to the professional theatre.

Former AEA President - and Oscar, Tony, and Emmy winning actress Ellen Burstyn - will be on hand, along with a host of other luminaries, to accept the Tribute at the Helen Hayes Awards ceremony on April 8 at the Warner Theatre.

Founded in 1913, Actors’ Equity ensures that professional workplace standards are upheld, and individuals are fairly compensated, adequately insured, provided a secure retirement and protected from discrimination of any sort. Representing nearly 50,000 members across the country, Actors’ Equity serves the heart and soul of professional live theatre throughout America.

“Actors’ Equity provides a vital service to so many of our nation’s professional working actors, and so many of those who work and reside right here in the Washington area.” said Linda Levy Grossman, President & CEO of theatreWashington. “As staunch advocates for the welfare and enduring success of theatre artists, Actors’ Equity exhibits qualities of organizations that are vital to the continued cultural life of art and theatre.”

Imagination, innovation, and uncompromising commitment are hallmarks of the careers and legacies of previous Tribute recipients. Past honorees include Kevin Spacey, James Earl Jones, Mary Martin, Angela Lansbury, Tommy Tune, Edward Albee, Derek Jacobi, the Artistic Directors of Washington’s professional theatres, Stephen Sondheim, and August Wilson, among others. “Live theatre is such an integral part of American history,” said Actors Equity Association President Nick Wyman.  “It is a portal to our past, a mirror to our present, and a crystal ball to our future. In countless ways, the professionals who join with audiences nationwide to create each singular live stage experience have contributed to and influenced our culture and lives significantly over the past century.”

“On behalf of the 900 AEA actors and stage manages in the Greater Baltimore/Washington area, as well as 49,000 Equity members nationwide, I am deeply honored to have theatreWashington choose Actors’ Equity for a special Helen Hayes Awards Tribute,” said Wyman. “On April 8, let us celebrate the magnificent collaboration that is theatre as we continue to entertain, educate, and enlighten our audiences for the next 100 years.”

The 29th Helen Hayes Awards will be held on Monday, April 8th at the Warner Theatre and JW Marriott Hotel. A signature program of theatreWashington, the Helen Hayes Awards will celebrate 150 nominated artists and productions along with the recipients of three special awards (The Helen Hayes Tribute, The Washington Post Award, and The John Aniello Award for Outstanding Emerging Theatre Company). For more information and tickets to the Awards, please visit or call 202-337-4572.


The 28th Helen Hayes Awards

Washington, DC - April 23, 2012

by Summer Donaldson

As always, it was an exciting night at the Warner Theatre in Washington, DC, the night of April 23, 2012 at the Helen Hayes Awards, the organization now known as theatreWashington. Given in honor of the “First Lady of the American Theatre” to Washington area artists, the show never disappoints. Although you couldn’t help but notice many more empty seats than in the past and the fact that the show got off to a slow start, the night was nevertheless electric with assorted personalities and talent: US Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton of DC, Chris Matthews of MSNBC and NBC, US Rep. Jim Moran of VA, and Helen Beth MacArthur, widow of James MacArthur, were among the presenters. Ms. Norton received a laugh when she haplessly tried to pronounce the names of the winners Irakli Kavsadze and Konstantine Lortkipanidze, who tied with Chris Baine for Outstanding Sound Design, Resident Production. Chris Matthews presented the Outstanding Director, Resident Musical award to Michael Baron for A Year with Frog and Toad at Adventure Theatre.

I’ve always been a fan of Mr. James MacArthur, the son of Helen Hayes. It was extremely sad last year when he passed away, so I was particularly happy to see his widow there, who presented The James MacArthur Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor, Resident Play to Ted van Griethuysen for his performance in Much Ado about Nothing at the Shakespeare Theatre Company. Additionally, Mr. MacArthur’s daughter, Juliette Rappaport, presented the Charles MacArthur Award for Outstanding New Play or Musical to The Hub Theatre’s Birds of a Feather.

The John Aniello award went to Faction of Fools Theatre Company, in residence at Gallaudet University. This group of artists celebrates and practices the fine art of Commedia dell’Arte, a theatre style from the 16th century. The winner of the Robert Prosky Award went to Mitchell Hebert for After the Fall, Theater J, who gave a funny, unassuming speech.

Gabriela Fernandez-Coffey, clearly an audience favorite, gave an amusing and humbling speech for her win for Outstanding Supporting Actress, Resident Play for her role in After the Fall, at Theater J. Not surprisingly, Irina Tsikurishvili (along with Ben Cunis) won for Choreography, Resident Production… she seems to win almost every year. Noticeably absent was Cate Blanchett, recipient of Outstanding Lead Actress, Non-Resident Production for her role in Uncle Vanya. Even though a few winners were absent, it didn’t dampen the enthusiasm of the audience… they cheered raucously for their obvious choice for Outstanding Resident Play Ruined, by Arena Stage. The entire cast of Hairspray from Signature Theatre came up on stage for their award for Outstanding Ensemble, Resident Musical. Another audience favorite was Carolyn Cole, the winner of Outstanding Lead Actress, Resident Musical, also for Hairspray. She was such a cute, nervous recipient… a little goofy, with an infectious laugh.

The highlight of the evening had to be The Helen Hayes Tribute to actor Kevin Spacey. A versatile actor, and inexhaustible on the stage and in film, he has won two Academy Awards, one Tony Award, and a Drama Desk Award, to name a few.

His educational organization, The Kevin Spacey Foundation, supports young actors, writers, directors, and producers who have the commitment, and drive to succeed in theatre and film. Mr. Spacey was funny and heartwarming accepting his award, and doubly-talented doing impressions of Bill Clinton and Jack Lemmon. I was able to meet Mr. Spacey on the red carpet before the show, and he is as handsome and charming as he appears onscreen.

I enjoyed this year’s awards show very much (largely due to the exceptional seating I was given by Darlene Taylor), especially the musical numbers sprinkled throughout the evening… a charming, snappy number about things theatre people say, a cute and clever routine sung to the tune of “Officer Krupke” to celebrate the sponsors, and the ending number which smartly gave us the advice:

“Whoever you are, whatever you do, you should go see a show!”

Celebrates 28 years in Washington, D.C. on April 25, 2011

by Verna Kerans


The Helen Hayes Awards in Washington, D.C. were organized in 1983 to honor and promote excellence in theatre. The inauguration of the awards took place at the National Theatre in what has become known as The Helen Hayes Gallery. This gallery is on the second floor of the National Theatre where people gather during intermission for a drink and chatting. There is also a small stage here when small-stage presentations are given. I once met Ian McKellan there when he was on tour and he presented us with a small preview of his show and took questions from the press afterwards. 

The day the Awards were announced, Helen Hayes herself was present and it was quite an exciting event. I got to chat with Ms. Hayes and reminded her about her last stage appearance at The Catholic University at Hartke Theatre. She played the lead in A Long Day’s Journey into Night in 1972. I worked on that show, and during the run, made Ms. Hayes a chocolate cake. I reminded her of the cake and the show during the party after the Awards had been introduced and we had a nice reminiscence. After that show her doctor had advised her not to do any more stage work as the dust was affecting her breathing and lungs.

Appearing with her as the son in Long Day's Journey was Jason Miller who was also in the film The Exorcist and later wrote That Championship Season which, by the way, is on Broadway now.

Much like the Kevin Kline Awards in St. Louis which were used as a prototype, the Helen Hayes Award had its ups and downs in the beginning. I can’t really remember what the discussions were about. As I recall, there was controversy about how all the awards seemed to be going to the bigger more prosperous theatres. But as we know, you can’t make everyone happy all the time.

This year the Helen Hayes Awards celebrate 28 years of excellence. The original idea was to promote theatre. In that, they have certainly succeeded. Since the beginning, more and more theatres have been established and are presenting excellent work.

Over the years, I have seen many changes. The first awards were honored to have Helen Hayes present the awards, and then her son began to present. Unfortunately, we have neither of them to join us this year but the evening promises to be a great “cast party” for the entire community in Washington, D.C.

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