Why Are the Helen Hayes Awards Important? The Helen Hayes Awards have been a critical tool for promoting Washington area professional theatres since 1985. The Awards serve as a valued credential for theatres just getting started, for those already established, and, of course, for individual theatre artists. By shining a spotlight on certain work, the theatre community as a whole is illuminated. Therefore, the value and credibility of the awards necessitate that its process be relevant and fair to the community we represent. All Washington productions – regardless of eligibility - feature the work of thousands of theatre professionals that make the Washington theatre community the second most prolific theatre town in the country. Work that is nominated – and work that ultimately receives an Award is not “best” or “better” in any way. Such distinctions, of course, simply aren’t possible. But all nominated works have something in common – that is, it is outstanding. [ Back to Top ]
Eight judges from a judging pool, specifically endorsed for the purpose by a panel of Washington area artistic directors, are dispatched to see each eligible production.
Each judge evaluates each artist’s work in the production on a 0-10 graded point scale in each of applicable categories. Ballots must be submitted within 24 hours of the judge’s attendance.
Judges have no idea as to the Awards status of any work they have seen and scored until the public does, i.e., when the nominees (and then the recipients) are announced.
At the conclusion of the 12-month judging cycle (January-December), the scores from the eight judges who saw each production are tabulated by an independent analysis firm.
In all, approximately 22,000 scores are analyzed annually; using standardized and widely accepted statistical models.
The productions, designs, and performances receiving the top five final scores in each category become the nominees. In the case of tie votes, a tie-breaking system is used; and, if the tie still cannot be broken, the number of nominees is simply increased.
Following the public announcement of the nominees, the process continues to determine the Award recipient in each category. Again, in the case of tie votes, a tie-breaking system is used; and, if the tie still cannot be broken, the number of Award recipients is simply increased.
Why Didn’t My Favorite Actor or Production Receive a Nomination? Happily, Greater Washington is a community of theatre lovers. So, it’s only natural that audiences and artists connect with, root for, and thoughtfully disagree about work they feel to be outstanding. Not surprisingly, that same subjectivity necessarily informs the nominations. Eight judges render their independent – and completely subjective – opinions about all work in each eligible production. So, it’s entirely possible that those subjective judgments differ not only among the judges themselves, but also with audience members – just as opinions vary among audience members. With so many amazing productions and individual performances by great actors and actresses under consideration, it’s simply unavoidable that some even truly exceptional work may not receive one of the top five scores needed for a nomination. If a performance, direction, or design you felt was truly outstanding did not receive a nomination, please consider three things:
that the work could likely have received high scores, perhaps very close to the top;
there is significantly more work produced than spaces within a category; and
that if you have seen all the nominated work in a particular category, do you feel there is any artist in that group who really shouldn’t be nominated.
Who Are the Helen Hayes Awards Judges and Who Chooses Them? The judging pool is a diverse and proportional mix of arts professionals, academics, journalists, and very experienced lifelong theatre goers. Anyone who wants to serve as a Helen Hayes Awards judge submits a detailed application to a panel of respected Washington area artistic directors. Based on a set of well-defined criteria, with special attention given to any real or even perceived conflict of interest, the panel thoroughly vets every application. Ultimately, each director serving on the Judge Selection Committee must say whether – based on the information provided in the application – he/she would feel comfortable having that person evaluate their work. Only candidates for whom that answer is a resounding “yes” are empanelled as Helen Hayes Awards judges. Each judge is invited to serve a three-year term. So, approximately one-third of the judges rotate off Helen Hayes service each year. [ Back to Top ]
How Are Judges Assigned to See Shows? Eight judges are independently assigned from the judging pool to see each eligible production. Each judge is required to attend and score approximately 30 shows each year. Judges attend their assigned productions with ballots in hand; each ballot consists of production information and specifications provided by the theatre. No judge is allowed to evaluate a performance at a theatre where he/she has a real or a perceived conflict of interest. [ Back to Top ]
What Involvement Do Washington-area Theatres Have in the Helen Hayes Awards Process? All Washington area artistic directors are asked to submit names of individuals whom they believe meet the specific criteria for service as a Helen Hayes Awards judge. Artistic Directors are asked - on a rotating basis - to serve on the Judge Selection Committee. Every theatre participating in The Helen Hayes Awards has an unconditional right to:
determine if it chooses to submit a production for consideration;
determine if its production is classified as a “musical” or a “play;”
determine if an actor’s role is leading or supporting;
designate specific performances when Helen Hayes Awards judges may attend;
reject any judge assigned to its theatre (at the time the judge is scheduled) if the theatre has reason to believe that that judge cannot evaluate the work impartially (another judge is then assigned);
expect that all Helen Hayes Awards judges conduct themselves in an appropriate and respectful manner;
and make policy and rules suggestions pertinent to improving the Awards process. It’s the suggestions, comments, and observations of theatre professionals that have helped the Awards process remain fresh and properly reflective of the ever-evolving Washington theatre community.
How is the Helen Hayes Awards Process Overseen? Previously the Rules Committee of the Helen Hayes Awards and now the Helen Hayes Awards Board of Governors - both comprised of theatre leaders from a variety of disciplines - oversee all Awards rules, procedures, and issues. If any judge does not adhere to the Awards’ code of conduct, he/she is dismissed. An independent analysis firm independently schedule judges, collects and tabulates ballots and blindly tracks judge scoring to ensure the integrity of all balloting. Judges are strictly prohibited from collaborating with anyone – or with each other – on their scores. All ballots are completed independently.The Awards are administered by a professional and dedicated staff who work closely with liaisons from every theatre to comply with the established rules, policies, and processes. After each year’s judges are selected, they attend a series of orientations and conversations specifically to ensure that each judge fully understands the scope of his/her responsibilities and the rights of all theatres. [ Back to Top ]