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    Updated June 10, 2013

Actors’ Equity Honored at 29th Annual Helen Hayes Awards

by Gregory Gorton

Nick Wyman and Ellen Burstyn

Washington D. C.’s opulent and elegant Warner Theater was the site of the 29th annual Helen Hayes Awards. The awards were held on Monday, April 8th, 2013, on a night celebrating both the actors and their Union on the occasion of Actors’ Equity’s 100th Anniversary.

Director Jerry Whiddon assembled a talented group of performers to open the show and do several enjoyable musical numbers and parodies throughout the night. The show was on a fast pace beginning with one of the evening’s funniest production number, asking the musical question, "Just what is it that designers do?"

But amidst the celebration and reverie, it became clear as the evening wound down that the theme would be one of family and community. It was also clear that this year would not be dominated by one powerhouse theater or production. The awards were in fact, well spread out and included many of the region’s smaller theaters.

Linda Levy Grossman, President/CEO, Theatre Washington, Mitchell Shear, former AEA President Ellen Burstyn, Victor Shargai, Chairman/Board of Directors, Theatre Washington
Photo: Gregory Gorton

Signature Theater came away on top with four awards, including the coveted Outstanding Resident Musical for "Dreamgirls". Studio Theater garnered three including two for the production of "Invisible Man", winning top honors for Outstanding Director in a Resident Play for Christopher McElroen and Outstanding Ensemble, Resident Play. MetroStage scored a triple crown victory with its staging of, "Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris" earning the award for Outstanding Lead Actor in and Actress in a Resident Musical for Bobby Smith and Natascia Diaz, respectively. Serge Seiden received the award for Outstanding Director in a Resident Musical, noting in his acceptance speech, "It is the community of artists here in Washington that makes this a pleasure."

The James MacArthur Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Resident Play was presented to Matthew McGee for the show "Taking Steps". "I was terrified moving here." He continued, "This is award is for those who are scared. Take the leap!"

The indomitable E. Faye Butler, whose stage presence is on a nuclear scale, won the award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Resident Play for the Arena Stage production of "Pullman Porter Blues". Accepting the award, Ms. Butler shouted down her husband’s enthusiastic remarks saying, "Shut up!" She went on to say, "This is the first time I have been acknowledged as an actress. Usually it’s in a musical."

HH Award nominee Michael John Casey (“Rapunzel,” Imagination Stage) with his wife Colleen Delaney
Photo: Gregory Gorton

This year the Helen Hayes Tribute Award was presented to Actor’s Equity in honor of its Centennial. A special video tribute (see below) was played showing Equity’s numerous accomplishments throughout the decades, with testimonials from local Equity actors talking about pride in their membership. At the conclusion, Equity President Nick Wyman and former President , as well as Emmy, Oscar and Tony Award winner, Ellen Burstyn came up to the stage. Mr. Wyman accepted the award, "...on behalf of the nine hundred DC region members and the forty-nine thousand members nationwide." Mr. Wyman went on to say, "Theater is a family affair; a collaborative effort to do what we do because, we all need each other. " Ms. Burstyn commented. "I have been a member of Actor’s Equity since 1956. I want to congratulate all of the winners and all of you who are working."

As has become tradition, a moment of reflection and an "In Memoriam" segment was presented. This year’s deserves special mention because of director Whiddon’s choice to have the strikingly beautiful voice (reminiscent of Kristen Chenoweth) of Tracy Stephens singing, "Because I Knew You", from the show, "Wicked" during the segment.

Steven Epp, nominee for the Robert Prosky Award for Lead Actor in a Resident Play (“Xanadu,” Signature Theatre)
Photo: Gregory Gorton

But perhaps the evening’s most poignant and moving moments came when Cedric Neal, accepting the award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Resident Musical for "Dreamgirls", took a brief moment and then looked into the crowd to say, "This is dedicated to the twenty-one children of Sandy Hook Elementary who never got the chance to dream."

As actors and performers, try as we will, on stage and off, we cannot save the world from itself.

For a complete list of all of the Helen Hayes Award winners, visit

2013 Helen Hayes Tribute to AEA

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