Reporting From The 2013 Helen Hayes Awards by Cate Brewer

Fondly referred to as “drama prom” by local theatre artists, last night the Washington area theatre community and its supporters gathered to celebrate theatre and to announce the recipients of the 2013 Helen Hayes Awards.

It was the 29th annual Helen Hayes Awards ceremony, and expectations were high after the attendance of last year’s recipient of the Helen Hayes Tribute, Kevin Spacey. His inspirational speech involving an emphatic use of the f-word,  (“…And so everybody in the balcony and everybody out there who has a dream, fuckin’ live it”- Kevin Spacey 2012 Helen Hayes Tribute Award acceptance speech), would certainly be hard to top-as would Bill Clinton’s video introduction of him.

The 2013 Helen Hayes Award recipients. Photo by Shannon Finney Photography.
The 2013 Helen Hayes Award recipients. Photo by Shannon Finney Photography.

The energy and anticipation upon entering The Warner Theatre was electric, as was the socializing afterwards at the Ovation Gala in the nearby JW Marriott Hotel. One thing is for sure-the folks at Theatre Washington know how to throw a party. They also know how to honor the arts and the work that Washington theatre artists share with audiences throughout the year.

The overall tenor of the evening was humility, surprise, and a respect for the obstacles that actors and theatre artists face in the pursuit of their dreams. The Helen Hayes Tribute to the Actors’ Equity Association reminded us just what actors have gone through in the last one hundred years and how far the profession has come to be recognized as a respected craft and discipline. The fact that several actors, including the great Ellen Burstyn, reminded the audience that they were currently looking for work reinforced the humble yet celebratory tone of the event.

After enjoying an entertaining night of vignettes, music, dance, and laughter, certain moments from recipient’s acceptance speeches stand out.

Natascia Diaz, Sam Ludwig, Bayla Whitten, and Bobby Smith  in MetroStage’s ‘Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living is Paris.’ Photo by Christopher Banks.
Helen Hayes Award recipient Natascia Diaz, Sam Ludwig, Bayla Whitten, and Helen Hayes Award recipient Bobby Smith in MetroStage’s ‘Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living is Paris.’ Photo by Christopher Banks.

Serge Seiden kicked off the ceremony when receiving the award for Outstanding Director, Resident Musical, for Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris at MetroStage.  He said:  “As a great mentor once told me, the simplest things are the hardest.”

We will not soon forget Executive Director and Founding Member of Capital Fringe, Julianne Brienza’s acceptance speech for the Washington Post Award for Innovative Leadership in the Theatre Community. Her comments about those charitable organizations that financially support Capital Fringe, both past and present, as well as her acknowledgement that with artistic risk we must accept the potential of artistic failure were pointed and appreciated by an audience used to pursuing the truth of the moment.

Dizzy Miss Lizzie’s Roadside Revue, self described as: “Rowdy, Raucous, Loud and Literate”, received the John Aniello Award for Outstanding Emerging Theatre Company with a rousing speech from company founders and veteran actor/musicians Debra Buonaccorsi and Steve McWilliams. They reminded artists to: “Find an audience. Theatre needs to become relevant and fresh again.”

Christopher Saul made the audience chuckle when accepting the award for Outstanding Supporting Performer, Non-Resident Production, for his role in Hamlet, at Folger Theatre. When referring to the size of the house at The Warner he said: “This is a bit bigger than the Folger.”

The most inspiring acceptance speech of the night goes to Matthew McGee recipient of The James MacArthur Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor, Resident Play for his role in Taking Steps at Constellation Theatre Company. He spoke of his choice to move to DC from California and said: “Life is full of terrifying decisions. This is for those who are scared. Take the leap, ‘cause if you don’t take the leap, you’ll never know what could come from it.”

Another memorable moment came from E. Faye Butler, recipient of the Outstanding Supporting Actress-Resident Play award for her role in Pullman Porter Blues at Arena Stage. As she stepped up to the stage a booming male voice was heard saying “I told you could do this.” She immediately told him to “shut up” and followed it with: “You know, that’s my husband. You’ve got to keep him in his place.” She of course lovingly thanked him at the end of her speech.

While remaining humorous and humble, E. Faye also managed to remind the audience of some of the historical context of Pullman Porter Blues, and mixed her moments of levity with historical truth and a reminder to the audience that artistry, entertainment, and education can go hand in hand.

Dr. Jaylee Mead
Dr. Jaylee Mead

The In Memoriam montage was particularly touching this year with mentions of thirty-six impressive theatre supporters, artists, administrators, and fans, among them the incredible Dr. Jaylee Mead, and Bill Pucilowsky, a talented costume designer as well as an incredibly patient educator.

These are just a few highlights from a great night celebrating Washington Theatre. Congratulations to this year’s nominees as well as all theatre practitioners who keep creating exciting, challenging, and entertaining work despite the economic and societal challenges that they face. Nights like these remind us of community and family and help make worthwhile all of the personal sacrifices faced by those who pursue a career in the arts.

As we close the past season in celebration, we must now look ahead to the coming year and what it brings for theatre patrons and artists alike. Here’s to another enticing season of Washington theatre!


Here are this year’s Helen Hayes recipients.


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