It was another dark night for
the local theater scene, when The Helen Hayes folks got together to announce their annual nominations last Monday in the district.
Though this august body has made some strides in recognizing theatrical excellence "across the boards" they have
a long, long way to go. I'm in agreement with some of the selections, and in fairness I haven't seen them all. But a casual eyeballing of the data suggests some continuing trends.
Three things continue to count for the judges: production values, new plays, and-out-of-town shows, preferably
the big budgeted ones, with stars. The Kennedy Center, The Woolly Mammoth, the Shakespeare Theater Company, and The
Arena Stage are all over-represented, but some of the smaller venues have finally claimed their deserved share (The Rep Stage,
The Forum, The Keegan, and MetroStage ), undoubtedly the result of some backroom arm twisting. They probably had to
swallow hard to include The Jersey Boys, at The National Theater, but those record box office receipts represent
a mandate even the judges couldn't overlook. But the Olney Theater Center's omission - unbelievable - and the
virtual overlooking of the Round House (okay, a bone or two tossed their way for design) represents a deep bias in this reviewer's
It seems that theaters demonstrating fiscal responsibility were held accountable by the judges.
The Olney, who has balanced its budget repeatedly, the Studio, which operates well in the black (they send out an annual report),
and the Signature, reconfiguring its programming to meet the challenges of the times - all were either ignored or passed over
for flashier shows. Their production values remained high, however, and they'll live to perform another day.
As in the past, multiple nominations continue to be the norm in resident productions.
Choreography, lead actress, and sound design all had three nominations for the same artist; while costume, lighting, lead
actor, new play or musical, and ensemble each had two. And best director for a musical had a husband and wife listed
separately (are they really going to award the prize to one and not the other?) It can't say much for a nomination
methodology, if it doesn't yield five (or six, or seven!) different nominees. Where's the suspense? These
multiple nominees will either win or if they don't, then there's even more bias at work.
And now, in what
is a move backwards, The Helen Hayes Awards group is going to give its imprimatur to a favored play as "a marketing initiative
to help encourage attendance during the run of a show ... and a special logo is [to be] sent to the producing theatre for
their use in up-to-the-minute marketing and communications efforts." If this isn't a blatant conflict of interest
- can you conceive of a Tony (or American Theater Wing) or Academy Award being so designated?) - I don't know what is.
Why should a theater awards group be involved in marketing and promotion?
If they want to remain relevant and meaningful,
The Helen Hayes Awards nomination and selection criteria need to be radically revised to streamline the process and remove
biases. I've discussed the limitations of the awards process in the past but the logo concept is just the latest example of institutional blindness. To keep the awards process honest, the Washington
DC area is in need of at least one other independent awards group with no vested interest in the outcome, other than theater
excellence, to serve the interests of the theater community and the public which supports it.
Among the amazing productions that I saw last year that were overlooked in the nominations were the following (all but
the first may be found under Reviews or Archives):
A Delicate Balance - Arena Stage
- The American Century Theater
The Gin Game - Bay Theater Company
The Millionairess, Night
Must Fall, Camelot - Olney Theatre Center
Licolnesque - The Keegan Theatre
One Flew Over
the Cuckoo's Nest, A Sleeping Country - Round House Theater
Dirty Blonde - Signature Theatre
Small Craft Warnings - Washington Shakespeare Company
(c) John F. Glass January
28, 2010 All rights reserved