Suck it up Broadway!

Suck it up Broadway!

by contributor Wendy Gordon
Photo credit: Robert Merhaut

Directing, design and just about everything else involved in the pursuit of the art of theatrical entertainment were lauded at The 30th annual Helen Hayes Awards presented by theatreWashington on Monday night. DC’s own rendition of the Tony Awards. Suck it, Broadway (and off Broadway too…) although we love you, we have our own fabulous stages and talent.

Since 1985 the Helen Hayes Awards has celebrated outstanding achievement in over 80 professional theaters 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.

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.

With a new format at the Building Museum that was more cocktail party divided into three ‘Acts,’ and two “Intermissions,” and acceptance speeches limited to 30 seconds (good luck with that), this year’s thespian fete differed from the past, which was in a more conventional proscenium theater format at venues from the Kennedy Center to the National Theater.


While guests stacked up at the bars like planes at O’Hare and noshed on gobs of smoked salmon and other goodies, awards were announced. Twitter feeds displayed and encouraged, photos of Helen Hayes were streaming and production cues were purposefully overheard over the sound system. While no one theater dominated, notable multiple winners included some more intimate premier local stages like Signature Theater Company, Woolley Mammoth and Arena Stage (yes, Kennedy Center—you had multiples too—but you’re among the larger venues).

While we’re on the subject of DC’s fabulous petite theater companies, the lifeblood of the theatrical arts, the multi-nominated Keegan Theater, at 17th and Church Streets, will be undergoing some changes this year as well.


“We’re going through a renovation process starting in July which will leave us dark for 7-9 months,” said Producing Artistic Director and Keegan Founder Mark Rhea. “We’ll have three levels which will include new green room, dressing rooms, showers, etc. for the actors which is not there now, rehearsal room, storage space, washer and dryer, stuff that the artists really need, and increased restroom space (there are only two there currently for actors and audience).”

He went on to describe the new vestibule, which will be a new entrance and upper mezzanine lobby area, increasing lobby space. This will make patrons more comfortable, but not increase the seating of the actual theater. “Our goal has always been to keep the seating to 116-120 max, Rhea said. “We don’t want to lose the integrity of the space. What we do now, like the current musical “Hair,” is raw and honest and we want to keep that.” A capitol campaign is currently underway. Shows for the new space have not been booked as of now, “We have several months—we’re reading plays now.”

It’s an exciting time for theater in DC. We heartily suggest everyone support their local theatrical community. Do it for Helen.

Helen Hayes Awards Recipients