Posted May 5, 2010
Kennedy Center Takes Seven Helen Hayes Awards
Edward Albee Honored
Washington's John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts led all contenders with 20 nominations for the 26th annual Helen Hayes Awards presented at Washington's Warner Theatre on April 5, 2010.
As the final chords of the orchestra played and the house lights came on, The Kennedy Center had won the night with seven awards including Outstanding Resident Musical Ragtime, and Outstanding Non-Resident Production A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE.
The Shakespeare Theatre garnered four awards including Outstanding Resident Play KING LEAR.
The festivities began with opening remarks from President and CEO of the Helen Hayes Awards, Linda Levy Grossman. Ms. Grossman welcomed the nominees, artists and audience members and invited everyone to "Go rejoice in a theatre tomorrow." She continued her speech with a note of hope for these recession-filled times, remarking that over two million people attended the 73 Washington Metropolitan area theatres in 2009. This was the best total attendance figure in six years.
As the first of the trophies were presented, the smart wager would have been a Kennedy Center sweep for its productions of RAGTIME and A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE. But, with the Helen Hayes Awards, you can always count on a few surprises, and a tie or two. Or three.
The Wooly Mammoth Theatre Company tied with itself. ANTEBELLUM by Robert O'Hara and ECLIPSED by Danai Gurira each received the Charles MacArthur Award for Outstanding New Play or Musical.
The Robert Prosky Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Resident Play also resulted in a tie: Karl Miller for his performance in The Forum Theatre's ANGELS IN AMERICA: MILLENNIUM APPROACHES and Stacy Keach for the title performance of KING LEAR at the Shakespeare Theatre.
Upon accepting his Lead Actor award, Mr. Keach remarked, "I began my career in Washington. I've spent most of my theatrical career in Washington and have felt blessed to do so."
Appropriately though, the evening really belonged to the Washington theatre community, and the performers and craftspeople plying their art.
Jim Brochu, Outstanding Lead Actor in a Non-Resident Production for ZERO HOUR at Theater J, expanded on this feeling. "I have played in many theatres in our country. I have never seen any with the passion for theatre that I see in Washington D.C."
Eric Hissan, taking the Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Resident Play for Arcadia at Folger Theatre summed up the these feelings; " I have worked in a lot of towns. DC is the best!"
There was a very touching and poignant moment during the evening. After receiving the award for Outstanding Choreography in a Resident Production for his work with the MetroStage production of Cool Papa's Party, Maurice Hines thanked the many people involved with the show and then told the audience, "Remember, when you see me, you see my brother, Gregory."
The Washington Post Award for Innovative Leadership in the Theatre Community was presented to restaurateur, activist, arts supporter and theatre angel Andy Shallal. Andy has worked tirelessly throughout the years to advocate for the arts and as well as for social justice. He is the co-founder of The Peace Café, and is the founder and proprietor of Busboys and Poets. Its three area locations provide a venue for theatre events, authors and guest speakers, as well as a gathering spot to encourage political activism, human rights and peace.
Mr. Shallal encouraged everyone to contact their representatives in Washington and urge them to increase funding for the arts, noting, "Without the arts you cannot have business."
A highlight of the evening was The Helen Hayes Tribute Award, sponsored by Jaylee Mead, to playwright Edward Albee.
Upon taking the stage, Miss Mead told the audience, " Some of the best moments of my life have been spent in Washington theatres." As she continued with her introduction, she called upon Albee's longtime friend and peer, Terrence McNally (the 2004 recipient of this award) to assist her with the presentation. Mr. McNally said of Mr. Albee, "Edward reminded us of the guts of Americans. He has always been a brave writer and always supports the next generations behind him." A short film, narrated by McNally, showed many of the amazing moments, including three Pulitzer Prizes, and theatrical brilliance in the lifetime and works of Edward Albee, as well as his creation of the Albee Foundation.
As the standing ovation receded, Mr. Albee, a native Washingtonian, told the audience, " When I was six years old I was taken to New York to see my first play. It hooked me on the absurdity and wonder of theatre.". Upon accepting the Helen Hayes Tribute award, Mr Albee commented that he was, " ...surprised that someone would give me an award for something I've so enjoyed doing all of my life."
For a complete list of the recipients of this year's Helen Hayes Awards, go to www.helenhayes.org and click on the Washington/Baltimore link.
Equity member Gregory Gorton is a regular contributor to Equity News.