At the announcement of this year’s Helen Hayes Award nominations, three companies were honored with first-time, stand-alone recognition. Flying V and Pointless Theatre, both recipients of the John Aniello Award for Outstanding Emerging Theatre Company, received their first nominations. NextStop Theatre Company, which previously received nominations for co-productions with other theatres, was recognized with their first solo honor. Writer Jamila Reddy takes a look at all three in this week’s At Rise.
NextStop Theatre Company
Housed in Herndon, NextStop Theatre Company seeks to live up to its name – to become the next stop for the arts in Northern Virginia. Founding Artistic Director Evan Hoffmann explains that the community is both the reason for their hard work and the source that makes it all possible. “Our biggest asset is our community,” he says. “The Dulles Corridor is filled by an extremely passionate and intelligent community of individuals who believe in building a local neighborhood feel with all of the availability and amenities of the city. Having great arts is right at the center of that idea.”
This year’s nomination honors Karen Vincent, whose performance in Kiss Me Kate puts her in the running for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Musical. Hoffmann sees the nomination as a “sign that we are accepted and respected by the remarkable DC theatre community.” He says, “We are cultivating a new audience in our area, which means we are instilling a love of theatre in a previously untapped portion of the DC Metropolitan area. We believe that we are building new audiences, not only for ourselves, but for all of the theatres.”
As a self-proclaimed “theatre for people who don’t think they like theater,” Flying V’s mission is to align the experience of theatregoers with that of music and comic book fans. This year, their original play Flying V Fights: Heroes and Monsters—a “devised theatrical mix-tape of Staged Violence and Sonic Power”—received two nominations, for Outstanding Ensemble in a Play and for Outstanding Choreography in a Play (Managing Director Jonathan Ezra Rubin).
Producing Artistic Director Jason Schlafstein calls the production “an immense collaboration,” and adds, “This ensemble did physical feats that routinely blew my mind and exceeded my expectations. They were able to execute these extremely difficult, energetic, and acrobatic sequences all while staying immersed in character and story. It was a really personally rewarding show for all of us who worked on it, and it’s really great that others have recognized their talent as well.”
Rubin calls the nomination “an amazing honor,” citing it as “ a much appreciated nod that says, ‘This was Awesome,’ which is always the goal whenever we do a show - make it as awesome as possible.” In the next few years, the company hopes to expand their audience while also transforming the very idea of what it means to attend the theatre. Schlafstein says, “I want to move on from having an audience to having a fandom - to create an emotional connection between Flying V and who we create for, like a band or sports team. We want to be your team.”
Pointless Theatre describes themselves as “first and foremost storytellers.” Their exclusively original works are dedicated to “creating bold, visceral, and affordable spectacles that gleefully smash the traditional boundaries between puppetry, theatre, dance, music, and the visual arts.” Founding Artistic Director Patti Kalil explains, “We love adapting stories with vivid imagery, enchanting music and overall an eccentric sense of play.” The company received two nominations this year, for Outstanding Musical Direction (Michael Winch) and Outstanding Set Design (Kalil). Both nominations honored the company’s Doctor Caligari, a theatrical adaptation of one of the first horror films ever made.
Kalil says the nominations allow Pointless “to continue producing with a well-earned confidence in the merit of our work.” She feels that the formal recognition establishes the company as one that is here to stay and adds, “A nomination is an invaluable testament that artists can create beautifully refined, polished shows that do not depend on a large budget or extravagant venue. Our strength as a community is in our concepts and execution. We are forever appreciative that the judges were able to acknowledge that determination and creativity.”