For this week’s At Rise, writer Jamila Reddy sat down with theatreWashington’s President and CEO Amy Austin, to get the inside scoop on the Helen Hayes Awards, being celebrated May 23 at the Lincoln Theatre.
This year’s Helen Hayes Awards - with a total of 236 nominations in 47 categories – is shaping up to be one of the biggest yet. Now in its 32nd year, the gala awards ceremony recognizes the excellence of professional artists in the greater Washington theatre community, which encompasses more than 90 theatres. This year’s celebration is hosted by Washington favorites E. Faye Butler and Lawrence Redmond – each a two-time Helen Hayes Award recipient – at the historic Lincoln Theater with a Dance Party to follow at the 9:30 Club.
theatreWashington President and CEO Amy Austin describes the night as “a moment to reflect and to gather together, to acknowledge what was outstanding on our individual stages, and all the collaborative relationships in the community.” Named after Helen Hayes, the "First Lady of the American Theatre,” the awards are given in parallel “Helen” or “Hayes” cohorts, depending on the number of Equity members involved in a production.
Looking to the bigger picture, Austin explains, “There’s actually two things going on: Individual and ensemble nominations which recognize great work, and just the simple experience of all of us getting together as a community. You come across people you did a production with five, ten, fifteen years ago, and you come across someone you were on stage with the night before. There’s a great co-mingling of the artistic community that doesn’t happen any other night of the year.”
In her first year as theatreWashington president and CEO, Austin says her intention is to “focus as much on the nominee experience as possible, and to make it their night.” (In order to facilitate acceptance speeches, nominees have been invited to submit the names of people they would like to see projected above the stage, while they speak from the podium.) Austin explains, “Each individual who is nominated for one of these awards has worked so hard to get to that place. For them to have a time where they’re recognized for how special and how magical and how great their work is – that’s what this night is about.”
The evening features a live performance by the American Pops Orchestra – an eleven-piece ensemble with deep ties to the theatre community. New this year, TodayTix will offer live, real-time award updates for those who opt in to their app. The Dance Party at the 9:30 Club brings the whole celebration to one of the city’s most famous venues. And the choice to employ Resident DJ Lil’e reflects a continued effort to spotlight the work of women artists, an effort reflected by last year’s Women’s Voices Theater Festival, whose productions were honored with 13 nominations.
“There’s a reason they call this Drama Prom,” Austin says. “And it’s not just because of the dresses. It’s a fun night. And there is so much to celebrate.”
Tickets for the 32nd annual Helen Hayes Awards are available for online purchase. Theatre professionals should check with their affiliated theatres for ticketing options.