the Play: One Continuous Contemporary Calendar Year
Stage Directions: This is a
conceptual play. The director and actors are to work together to improvise dialogue, movement, and delivery. Use
of puppets and mimed performances is encouraged for dramatic effect since this is a locally acknowledged form of theater excellence.
Shadow boxes (magic lanterns) may also be used. Design is to be minimal and suggestive of the scenes below. Out-of-work
actors (male and female) are to be recruited by word-of-mouth with NO CASTING CALLS, the parts and ensembles to emerge from
rehearsal, as will the director. The belief is that this will minimize real and perceived conflicts of interests and
use of "old boy" networks.
Prologue - A call for judges
Music: Sondheim's Overture to Sweeny Todd
Set Design: Studio
Costumes: Man in Black
Lighting: Dark to Light
Action: A multimedia presentation delivered by single performer (press), video (TV), and speakers (radio),
in alternating roles. DC area is alerted to need for qualified judges for the coming year. Applications will be
accepted from all "interested in the theater."
Act I - Judge Designates
Assemble for the Word
Music: Opera Buffa or Overture to Rossini's: The Barber
Set Design: Corporate Offices Favoring "K" Street
Costumes: Casual to theatrical
Lighting: Early to mid-morning
Action: Applications come in by the hundreds from academia, theater community, life-long theater fans (i.e.,
big donors), and lawyers, and after a tortuous and arcane process known only to the selection committee are culled into a
group of 20 who all know each other and are essentially the same as any other group in any other year. Rules are reviewed
with incoming judges who are perplexed over a process that allows different criteria for evaluating plays based on experience
(2d); selects 5 artists per category (2e), when they typically see 7-8 nominations; and obliges them to use a 0-10 point scale
in 25 categories without qualification as to what those scales comprise and the training or experience for evaluating
what those categories constitute (2f). What's a 9 or a 10 (or an 8 or 7 or 6) mean and is mine the same as the next
judge with more or less DC theater experience? They are assured that because of the numbers, it will all even
out, particularly because those results will be tabulated by an outside firm (2g). Lawyers confer with each other over
ongoing federal investigations, indictments, prosecutions, and consent decrees with local accounting firms. A list of
about 75 eligible theaters is presented, most of which judges have never heard of let alone attended.
Chorus: Where's Columbia?
Act II - Judges Deploy
Music: Gershwin's An American in Paris then: Wagner's Die Walkure: Ride of the Valkyries
Set Design: Studies and offices: then a lobby anywhere and nowhere, favoring Art
Deco, with faux wood columns, track lighting, and colored glass
Lighting: Suitable for
reading press packets and programs
Costumes: Theater fatigues - Men: Navy blue blazer with white
or off-white khakis and rations (snacks). Women: Jacket or blouse with scarf, slacks, sensible shoes and tote bag.
Action: Scene 1: New judges are assigned to one of 4 groups: new plays, musicals, and straight plays (2).
Since new plays are the domain of the Woolly and Signature, with the latter the face of musical theater in the area, and both
have been honored repeatedly in the past, judges fight or finagle their way to go to Penn Quarter and Shirlington. Notable
non-resident productions of both straight plays and musicals tend to go to the Kennedy Center and those assignments are also
coveted. The rest haggle over assignments to Shakespeare, Studio, and the Arena and other low-hanging fruit. None
or few of the selected judges will have specific training in direction, design, or acting, but all will recognize and respond
favorably to "high production values," lavish costumes and sets, and big names (outside and local), and will rate
those productions highly in 25 categories within 24 hours, because they don't want to go to the hinterlands. Scene 2:
Various ensembles arranged separately at different parts of the stage - before, during intermissions, and after the show -
discussing the plays and media reviews with spouses, companions, and friends.
scene downstage with phone conversations and electronic messaging (overhead video) as judges and HH interact over assignments.
May be played with puppets or performed as a dumb show. The idea is to dramatize the competition within the competition.
Chorus: Where's Olney?
Act III -
Music: Verdi's Il Trovatore: Anvil Chorus
Set Design: Small underground space with walls reflecting sound levels to 130 dB. Model after
the Tombs, local restaurant
Costumes: Work, business casual, and student-like
Lighting: Bright to begin, then low spotlight on podium
Action: 100 invitees
and 1000 guests descend on the National Theater in search of free food and drink. After 87 bottles of wine and liquor
are imbibed and 12 tables of finger food are cleared, the cacophony of the room quiets to a hush as 25 minutes of introductions
and glad-handing precede the announcements. Nominations are delivered in mind-numbing monotony over the next 70 minutes,
broken intermittently by polite expressions of surprise, astonishment, and resignation, and once loudly by the closing of
the bar, as 150 candidates in 30 categories are recognized. Press huddle and tally results, noting that a preponderance
of nominations (again) go to several theaters. Also-rans huddle and reflect bitterly (again) about what a closed theater
town DC is.
Chorus: Where's Bethesda?
Act IV - The Celebration
Music: Bizet's Overture
Set Design: Theater in the Round
- tiaras and swords optional
Lighting: Red and black
After an introduction which notes encouraging increases in companies and attendance in these challenging times, raucous clusters
of theater companies cheer wildly as their names are announced, the noise level inversely proportional to the size of the
company. Awards go (more or less) to the established theaters who led in nominations. After 3 plus hours of mostly
bad theater (who would pay for this?), attendees depart for the real celebration, the after-awards party. Much dishing
and dissing compete with congratulations and commiserations, fading as the participants hit both the bar and the dance floor.
Chorus: Where's Fairfax?
Act V - The Aftermath
Music: Richard Strauss's - Ein Heldenleben Second Movement (The Hero's Adversaries)
Set Design: Multiple or split sets
Costumes: Bedroom or Recreational
Lighting: Kaleidoscopic as action moves back and forth
Press puzzled over persistence of status quo. Complain privately amongst themselves about inequities. Smaller
companies complain bitterly in private about being shut out again. Fearing retaliation by the HH committee, both sides
privately e-mail, text-message, phone, and write the Awards Committee privately and separately with their complaints about
the selection process.
Chorus: Where's Baltimore?
- The HH Board Meets
Music: Wagner's Overture to Tannhauser
Set Design: Boardroom
Costumes: Business Informal
Action: Consensus is reached on correcting "perceived problems,"
by unanimously voting to increase the number of awards categories, the number of nominations, and the diversity of and criteria
for selecting judges. A motion is entertained and approved to modify the procedures to reflect this and expand on the FAQs
to answer the deluge of questions about the selection process. As a salve to the smaller theaters, who no one knows,
and to the niche plays, that nobody sees, the committee agrees to place it's imprimatur on selected productions designating
them as "Helen Hayes Recommended." It's unclear if this will sway the judges or bring out the audiences, but
everyone feels it sounds good, and will probably help at the box office. No one mentions the "V" word as to
whether these or other specific changes or the method itself can be validated, because if they can't be maybe a coin toss
will do (uh-oh). None of these actions will have the slightest effect on the outcome of next year's nominations
and awards. Since there will have been no public discussions and interested parties remain fearful of retaliation by
HH (the media either by ostracism or no free tickets; the theater community by blacklisting), no one will organize an alternative
or independent awards process such as used in New York with the NY Drama Critics, Innovative Theater, Drama Desk, and Obie
The caravan goes on, but the dog barks ...
Triple AAA ratings of securities
Views of Cosmology
Ether Theory in Physics
Full Disclosure: The writer, as publically unknown as the HH selection committee,
is a life-long theatergoer and student of the art. He was once spurned as an applicant for the judging process, so let
the reader/viewer beware! Treat this as you would any other review or award, with plenty of back story!!
© John F. Glass April 1, 2010 - All rights reserved