Helen Hayes Award

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Helen Hayes Award
Awarded for Excellence in professional theatre in the Washington, D.C. area
Country United States
Presented by theatreWashington
First awarded 1983
Official website www.theatrewashington.org

A Helen Hayes Award is a theater award named for the famed actress Helen Hayes to recognize excellence in professional theater in the Washington, D.C. area since 1983. The awards are named in tribute to Helen Hayes, known as the "First Lady of American theatre." They are presented by theatreWashington (formerly known as the Helen Hayes Awards organization), which is the unified voice of Washington theatre since the 1980s. The organization – led by Amy Austin – works full-time to promote, represent and support all segments of Washington’s professional theatre community as well as strengthen Washington theatre’s powerful economic engine and world class brand.[1]



In the early 1980s, the Washington Theatre Awards Society was founded to recognize and encourage excellence in professional theatre in the Washington region through the presentation of The Helen Hayes Awards. After the first few Helen Hayes Awards presentations, the region and the country understood the quality of theatrical excellence to be found on Washington area stages. Using this prestigious credential, theatres attracted new audiences and support, they invested in programming and infrastructure, and in response, audiences grew and artists came to Washington to do the work they loved.

The organization launched innovative education and communication programs, but the early success of the Helen Hayes Awards suggested that the organization do business under the name of its most visible program.

By building audiences, by introducing students to theatre, by promoting Washington across the nation as a vibrant cultural capital, and with the national and international significance of The Helen Hayes Awards, the organization has helped drive the continually growth of Washington theatre. Now, at the request of the theatre community and the encouragement of a wide range of stakeholders, a stronger and more robust organization has evolved — and with a new name theatreWashington has become a structure that better reflects the breadth and geographic scope of the organization’s realigned activities.[1]

Due to criticism of the "one size fits all" philosophy of the awards, in September 2013 theatreWashington announced that effective with the 2015 awards the awards would be split into

The Helen Group of Awards for non-Equity productions defined to be those that have no more than three equity actors or the equity actors make up less than 51% of the cast.
The Hayes Group of Awards for productions employing too many equity actors to qualify for the Helen Group.

These awards will be at the production level, not at the company level.[2]

History of the Awards[edit]

The story begins in 1983 on a flight from Chicago back home to Washington D.C.,when Broadway producer Bonnie Nelson Schwartz pondered the state of theatre in her hometown. Chicago's Joseph Jefferson Awards had just been presented. Impressed with the way the Jefferson Awards had galvanized Chicago theatre, Bonnie wondered what could be done to strengthen and cultivate live theatre in Washington.

Together with producing partner Arthur Cantor and Washington Post Critic Emeritus Richard L. Coe, they presented a plan to the first lady of the American theatre and native Washingtonian, Helen Hayes, who wholeheartedly embraced the idea of her namesake awards honoring theatrical excellence in her hometown.

The idea of Washington's own theatre awards program – a signature event that would promote the concept of Washington as a theatre town – was born. The stage was set. As young theatres received Helen Hayes for artistic excellence, they attracted new audiences and support. With greater support, the theatres could invest in their programming and facilities. Audiences grew.

Along with this concept, came to the organization the dream of improving the community by helping artists make a living doing what they love in a place where they had established roots. In order to better serve the growing demand, restaurants and stores opened – more people came. Neighborhoods were revitalized.

The bounty of talent and world-class productions make theatre an essential priority for thousands of Washingtonians each day – to feed their spirit and soul, to help educate their children, to encourage cultural diversity, and to provide a more vibrant quality of life.

Helen Hayes MacArthur: First Lady of American Theatre[edit]

Main article: Helen Hayes

Born on October 10, 1900, in Washington, DC, Helen Hayes saw her first play at the National Theatre when she was five years old. At the age of nine, she made her professional debut. Later that same year, she appeared on Broadway for the first time in the play Old Dutch. Perhaps the greatest actress in the history of the American stage, her astonishing career in theatre, film, television, recording, and publishing spanned the 20th century.

Miss Hayes authored eight books and worked extensively in radio for more than half a century. She was the recipient of the first Tony Award for Best Actress, two Oscars, an Emmy Award, a Grammy Award, The Kennedy Center Honors, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and was regarded as the "First Lady of the American Theatre".

The Helen Hayes Awards is a vibrant living legacy to her legendary work ethic, standards of excellence, and inspiration to Washington artists who followed in her footsteps. Eighty years after her first visit to the National Theatre, Miss Hayes presided over the inaugural presentation of her namesake awards. She died on March 17, 1993.

The awards[edit]

Awards categories[edit]

With nearly 80 professional theatre companies, Washington, DC, is second only to New York for the number of productions each year. During the 2011 season, 53 theatres produced 192 shows in the January 1 – December 31 judging cycle. From these shows, 153 artists, ensembles, and productions from 26 theatres were nominated for Helen Hayes Awards, which are given for resident and nonresident productions. The awards for acting, directing, design, choreography, productions, and more include:

  • Resident Play
    • Outstanding Director
    • Outstanding Supporting Actress
    • Outstanding Lead Actress
    • Outstanding Ensemble
    • Outstanding Resident Play
  • Resident Musical
    • Outstanding Director
    • Outstanding Supporting Actor
    • Outstanding Supporting Actress
    • Outstanding Ensemble
    • Outstanding Lead Actor
    • Outstanding Lead Actress
    • Outstanding Resident Musical
  • Resident Production
    • Outstanding Set Design
    • Outstanding Lighting Design
    • Outstanding Sound Design
    • Outstanding Musical Direction
    • Outstanding Choreography
    • Outstanding Costume Design
  • Nonresident Production
    • Outstanding Lead Actor
    • Outstanding Lead Actress
    • Outstanding Supporting Performer
    • Outstanding Nonresident Production
  • Special Awards
    • The Charles MacArthur Award – for Outstanding New Play or Musical
    • The Washington Post Award – for Innovative Leadership in the Theatre Community
    • The John Aniello Award – for Outstanding Emerging Theatre Company
    • The James MacArthur Award – for Outstanding Supporting Actor, Resident Play
    • The Robert Prosky Award – for Outstanding Lead Actor, Resident Play
    • Outstanding Production – Theatre for Young Audiences

The 2012 Recipients[edit]

Category 2012 Winner
Outstanding Resident Play Ruined – Arena Stage
Outstanding Resident Musical Hairspray – Signature Theatre
Outstanding Production, Theatre for Young Audiences Charlotte’s Web – Adventure Theatre
Outstanding Lead Actress, Resident Play Erica Sullivan – Venus in Fur – Studio Theatre
Outstanding Lead Actress, Resident Play Rena Brown – Wit – Bay Theatre Company, Inc.
The Robert Prosky Award for Outstanding Lead Actor, Resident Play Mitchell Hebert – After the Fall – Theater J
Outstanding Lead Actress, Resident Musical Carolyn Cole – Hairspray — Signature Theatre
Outstanding Lead Actor, Resident Musical Euan Morton – Parade – Ford's Theatre and Theater J
Outstanding Nonresident Production Edward Albee's – Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? – Arena Stage
Outstanding Ensemble, Resident Play King Lear – Synetic Theater
Outstanding Ensemble, Resident Musical Hairspray – Signature Theatre
Outstanding Supporting Actress, Resident Play Gabriela Fernandez-Coffey – After the Fall – Theater J
Outstanding Supporting Actor, Resident Play Ted van Griethuysen – Much Ado About Nothing – Shakespeare Theatre Company
Outstanding Lead Actor, Nonresident Production Sahr Ngaujah – FELA! – Shakespeare Theatre Company
Outstanding Lead Actress, Nonresident Production Cate Blanchett – Uncle Vanya – Kennedy Center
The John Aniello Award for Outstanding Emerging Theatre Company Faction of Fools Theatre Company
Outstanding Supporting Actress, Resident Musical Nova Y. Payton – Hairspray – Signature Theatre
Outstanding Supporting Performer, Nonresident Production Hugo Weaving – Uncle Vanya – Kennedy Center
Outstanding Supporting Actor, Resident Musical Matthew Delorenzo – Pop! – Studio Theatre 2ndStage
Outstanding Costume Design, Resident Production Kendra Rai – Green Bird – Constellation Theatre Company
Outstanding Choreography, Resident Production Ben Cunis – King Lear – Synetic Theater
Outstanding Choreography, Resident Production Irina Tsikurishvili – King Lear – Synetic Theater
Outstanding Musical Direction, Resident Production Jon Kalbfleisch – Hairspray – Signature Theatre
Outstanding Sound Design, Resident Production Konstantine Lortkipanidze – King Lear – Synetic Theater
Outstanding Sound Design, Resident Production Irakli Kavsadze – King Lear – Synetic Theater
Outstanding Sound Design, Resident Production Chris Baine – A Bright New Boise – Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company
Outstanding Lighting Design, Resident Production Andrew Griffin – King Lear – Synetic Theater
Outstanding Set Design, Resident Production Lee Savage – Much Ado About Nothing – Shakespeare Theatre Company
Outstanding Director, Resident Play Aaron Posner – Cyrano – Folger Theatre
Outstanding Director, Resident Musical Michael Baron – A Year With Frog and Toad – Adventure Theatre
The Charles MacArthur Award for Outstanding New Play or Musical Marc Acito – Birds of a Feather – Hub Theatre

For more information on the previous years' recipients:[3]

The nominees and recipients selection method[edit]

  • 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, about 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 recipients is increased.

For more information on the selection process:[4]


Some critics feel that the Helen Hayes Awards tend to overlook smaller theatres and productions at the expense of rewarding the larger, more established theatres. It has been suggested that the awards be "two-tiered" with separate categories for large and small theatres.[5][6] This criticism was addressed by the restructuring of the awards into the Helen (nonequity) and Hayes (equity) groups.[2]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "http://theatrewashington.org/content/our-story". Retrieved 2012-07-09.  External link in |title= (help)
  2. ^ a b Pressley, Nelson (17 September 2013). "Helen Hayes Awards will split nominees into two groups based on Equity involvement". The Washington Post. Retrieved 18 September 2013. 
  3. ^ "http://theatrewashington.org/find-hha-nominees". Retrieved 2012-11-09.  External link in |title= (help)
  4. ^ "http://theatrewashington.org/content/faqs#faq7". Retrieved 2012-07-09.  External link in |title= (help)
  5. ^ Pressley, Nelson (2012-04-20). "Helen Hayes Awards could use a two-tiered approach to Washington theater". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2012-12-08. 
  6. ^ Pressley, Nelson (2012-01-22). "New Helen Hayes Awards could spur diverse theater". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2012-12-08. 

External links[edit]