The Helen Hayes Awards recognize outstanding achievement from more than sixty professional theatres and hundreds of theatre-makers across the Washington, DC region each year. Named for Helen Hayes, the legendary First Lady of the American Theatre born in Washington, DC, the awards celebrate the artists and theatre companies whose work makes Washington, DC a thriving, nationally recognized theatre community. The Helen Hayes Awards are traditionally celebrated each spring during a festive awards ceremony and after-party.
Judges for the Helen Hayes Awards
The Helen Hayes Awards Nominees and Recipients are the result of a year-long process in which forty volunteer judges on five panels attend as many as 200 eligible productions, including dozens of world premieres. Judges commit to attending a series of anti-bias and introductory training sessions and viewing at least 80% of productions in their panel’s category, submitting ballots to Theatre Washington by the Tuesday following each performance. The ideal judge has a background in theatre production or attendance and has learned how to distinguish between acting choices, directing choices, and varying design elements. They don’t need to have a current career in theatre or an expertise in any specific discipline, but must be able to maintain the necessary time commitment.
The process of becoming a judge starts with an application, found below. The applications are voted on by theatremakers and theatre organizations, and then reviewed by members of the Adjudication Committee and Theatre Washington staff based on their recommendations and their own review. Applications have identifying information redacted during the review process. The deadline for applications is late October. Historically, there are three times as many applications as positions. All applicants will be notified in early December.
The judge selection process for 2023 has concluded. To apply to become a judge for 2024, fill out an application here.
All Award Categories
There are Awards given in dozens of categories including for performance, writing, directing, design, and production. The Awards are divided into two tiers, Helen and Hayes Awards. Performances with a majority non-Union cast are considered for Helen Awards, and those with a majority Union cast are considered for Hayes Awards.
Theatre Washington continues to be engaged in a thoughtful restructuring of organization-wide governance and leadership in order to prioritize anti-racist and anti-oppressive values. We have updated the nomination process for Helen Hayes judges and provide bias-awareness and accountability training. This training offers tools to struggle against white supremacy and cisheteropatriarchy through a transformative justice lens while attending theatre in the capacity of an art critic. Discussions include implicit bias, anti-racism, power, digital blackface, and more.
Starting in 2020, the Helen Hayes Awards performer categories are adjudicated as gender inclusive and expanded to ten nominees each (from the previous cap of five). Two recipients are now chosen for each category to maintain the usual number of recipients that are awarded and honored.