All the latest 2020 Helen Hayes Awards and more

Here's what you missed if you didn't watch.

The 2020 Helen Hayes Awards—recognizing outstanding work produced on Washington-area stages in 2019—were celebrated as a series of virtual events, from August 31 to September 11, 2020, to be followed by the grand finale on September 25. (See “2020 Helen Hayes Awards to be revealed over four weeks on 21 Zooms.”) DC Metro Theater Arts is staying tuned to this story with ongoing coverage by a team of our writers.

The full videos for each category announcement are now available on theatreWashington’s YouTube channel.

Friday, September 11, 2020

Sophia Howes reports: The Twelfth Night of the virtual Helen Hayes Awards was as sparkling and memorable as Shakespeare’s play. The evening was a reminder of the many gifts of the DMV theater community—creativity, courage, and, most of all, heart.

The event was ASL interpreted, and an online audience watched the ceremonies from a breakout Zoom room. Artists, friends, family, and colleagues joined together in a joyous celebration. We all had opportunities at the start to wave at the nominees.

The loss of Victor Shargai, theatreWashington board chair and longtime theater patron, was commemorated, with warm acknowledgment of his enormous contribution to DC theater.

theatreWashington President Amy Austin welcomed us, noting that we are meeting at a time when the theater community is suffering from loss of performances in theaters, loss of work, particularly for independent theater makers, and loss of jobs in institutions.

She affirmed the need for equity, anti-racism, and anti-oppression in our theater institutions, and urged us to recognize the need for long-overdue change. We must now listen, she said, to those who have suffered most from injustice and inequity, who know exactly what needs to be done.

She announced that, starting this year, new gender-inclusive categories will be used for performance awards. By eliminating “actor” and “actress,” these new designations will enable us to honor the work of transgender, nonbinary, and gender-nonconforming performers.

Unsurprisingly, since this was a theater gathering, everyone was asked how they are feeling.

Our gracious hosts were two gifted and popular actors, Bobby Smith and Holly Twyford. Smith described his feelings at different times as “itchy,” “exuberant,” and “effervescent,” and Holly Twyford, at various moments was “excited,” “all atwitter,” and “invigorated.”

The evening’s categories were:Outstanding Lead Performer in a Play – Helen, Outstanding Direction in a Musical – Helen and Hayes, and Outstanding Choreographer in a Play – Helen and Hayes.

Outstanding Lead Performer in a Play – Helen
Felicia Curry Agnes of God Factory 449
Dane Figueroa Edidi Klytmnestra: An Epic Slam Poem Theater Alliance
Billie Krishawn Blood at the Root Theater Alliance
Lolita Marie God of Carnage The Keegan Theatre
Maryam Najafzada Cyrano de Bergerac Synetic Theater
Louis E. Davis Topdog/Underdog Avant Bard Theatre
Jeremy Keith Hunter Topdog/Underdog Avant Bard Theatre
Patrick Joy columbinus 1st Stage
Emmanuel Kyei-Baffour Blood at the Root Theater Alliance
Vato Tsikurishvili Cyrano de Bergerac Synetic Theater

Billie Krishawn received the award for Best Performer in a Play – Helen, for her work as Raylynn in Theater Alliance’s Blood at the Root, a powerfully original exploration of racial tensions. Krishawn, who was described by fellow cast member Molly Shayna Cohen as “a force of light and goodness,” encouraged the enthusiastic audience to “take time to appreciate the world around us.”

Louis E. Davis, the other recipient for Best Performer in a Play – Helen, was honored for his role as Booth in Avant Bard’s Top Dog/Underdog, Suzan-Lori Parks’s Pulitzer Prize–winning drama about two African-American brothers living together amid the remnants of their dreams. As he announced his pronouns, he added,  wittily, “King.” Dapper in a Howard Alumni t-shirt, he thanked, among others, God and his mom. He asserted that it is “time for systemic change,” and declared “I love you all.”

Outstanding Direction in a Musical – Helen
Matt Conner Disney’s Beauty and the Beast Creative Cauldron

Ricky Drummond Legally Blonde The Keegan Theatre
Shawn Kettering A Christmas Story Toby’s Dinner Theatre
Nick Martin Little Shop of Horrors Constellation Theatre Company
Michael Windsor Daddy Long Legs Monumental Theatre Company

Outstanding Direction in a Musical – Hayes
Peter Flynn Into the Woods Ford’s Theatre
Matthew Gardiner A Chorus Line Signature Theatre
Alan Paul Cabaret Olney Theatre Center
Molly Smith Newsies Arena Stage
Jerry Whiddon Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! The Musical The Kennedy Center

Outstanding Direction in a Musical – Helen was awarded to Matt Conner for Disney’s Beauty and the Beast at Creative Cauldron. A colleague called Conner “the kind of director who, when facing the impossible, reaches so far outside the box that you forget it ever existed in the first place.” Reviews noted Conner’s remarkable achievement of staging a large-cast Broadway musical in a somewhat smaller space.

Matthew Gardiner received the award for Outstanding Direction in a Musical – Hayes for A Chorus Line  at Signature Theatre. At the outset he was feeling “nostalgic.” The stage manager said “it is a singular sensation to be in a rehearsal room with Matt Gardiner.” Gardiner thanked, among others, Dennis Jones, the Helen Hayes judges, the Signature staff, and “that amazing line.”

Outstanding Choreography in a Play – Helen
Robert Bowen Smith, Jonathan Ezra Rubin, Tiffanie Horner Crystal Creek Motel Flying V
Happenstance Theater Pantheon Happenstance Theater
Casey Kaleba Topdog/Underdog Avant Bard Theatre
Tiffany Quinn Blood at the Root Theater Alliance
Jessica Redish Airness The Keegan Theatre & 1st Stage
Irina Tsikurishvili Cyrano de Bergerac Synetic Theater

Outstanding Choreography in a Play – Hayes
Tori Tolentino and Dallas Tolentino Escape from Peligro Island Imagination Stage
Alice Gosti, U. Jonathan Toppo 1 Henry IV Folger Theatre
Orange Grove Dance The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time Round House Theatre
Stephanie Paul, Robb Hunter Richard the Third Shakespeare Theatre Company
Tony Thomas P.Y.G. Or The Mis-Edumaction of Dorian Belle Studio Theatre
Paige Hernandez, Cliff Williams III The Royale Olney Theatre Center & 1st Stage

Tiffany Quinn was the Helen Hayes recipient for Outstanding Choreography in a Play – Helen for Blood at the Root at Theater Alliance. A first-time nominee, she described attending the awards last year and feeling the electric energy. She said, “I spoke and manifested that I would be nominated and win this year.” Strikingly attired in a yellow dress, with golden earrings and a multicolored necklace, she thanked friends and mentors for “pushing me into this” and cited the “relevancy of this piece for our youth.”

Outstanding Choreography in a Play – Hayes went to Orange Grove Dance (Colette Krogol and Matt Reeves) for The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time at Round House Theatre, the story of Christopher Boone, a 16-year-old with Asperger’s syndrome, which won a Tony Award for Best Play in 2015.

James Baldwin said, “Talent is insignificant. I know a lot of talented ruins. Beyond talent lie all the usual words: discipline, love, luck, but, most of all, endurance.” As the DMV theater community endures, we can all hope for a future in which its light shines brighter than ever.

Wednesday, September 9, 2020 

Carolyn Kelemen reports: The Helen Hayes Awards ranks high on everyone’s list for celebrity watching and having a good time no matter if you win or lose. Now with COVID-19 bludgeoning our theater world, Helen and Hayes awards have gone virtual, but the festivities continue on Zoom with super talent and a lot of chutzpah. 

Helen Hayes, “The First Lady of the American Theater” (and a native Washingtonian), embraced the idea of the Washington Theatre Awards Society, founded in 1983 to recognize and encourage excellence in professional theater in our area. I have fond memories of watching Helen Hayes enter stage right at the National Theatre to recognize such talent. Her son, James MacArthur, followed in his mother’s footsteps and annually presented the Charles MacArthur Award for Outstanding Original New Play nearly until his death in 2010. 

This evening’s presenters were Allyson Currin and Helen Hedman. And the mood was celebratory. 

What fun to wave at the participants and to check out friends in the Zoom breakout room. Lots of champagne toasts and some surprised, yet appreciative, reactions to the announcements. Even the one glitch—an acceptance speech by a non-recipient before the award was announced—was seen as a chance to offer support, not criticism. 

On a sad note, the loss of Victor Shargai to the Helen Hayes Awards was mentioned, and you could almost hear a collective sigh remembering how much he enjoyed this event. Even the signers for the hearing-impaired responded to the ups and downs of the evening with body language that said it all.  

When the nominees were asked, “How do you feel” during the back-and-forth comments, some mentioned being nervous, others were glad to see colleagues and friends gathered on the screen, and all were “grateful” for various reasons. Comments from co-directors and theater performers brought smiles and tears and a lot of jumping up and down. The theme of the night could be summed up in a few words: “Gratitude” and “Let’s party.” 

Charles MacArthur Award for Outstanding Original New Play or Musical
Tearrance Chisholm P.Y.G. Or The Mis-Edumaction Of Dorian Belle Studio Theatre
Irma Correa El viejo, el joven y el mar (The Old Man, the Youth, and the Sea) GALA Hispanic Theatre
Ken Ludwig Dear Jack, Dear Louise Arena Stage
Psalmayene 24 Les Deux Noirs: Notes on Notes of a Native Son Mosaic Theater Company of DC
Paul Reisman The Great Commedia Hotel Murder Mystery Faction of Fools Theatre Company

“Oh my God…I’m shocked and honored beyond words,” said Ken Ludwig, who won the MacArthur award for his Dear Jack, Dear Louise. He thanked “all of the people who supported him over the years” and listed the theaters that housed his works. He smiled when a colleague praised him for his “openness” and “compassion.”

Outstanding Choreography in a Musical – Helen
Tina Marie DeSimone & Mark Minnick A Christmas Story Toby’s Dinner Theatre
Ilona Kessell Little Shop of Horrors Constellation Theatre Company
Ashleigh King Legally Blonde The Keegan Theatre
Robert Mintz Singin’ in the Rain NextStop Theatre Company
Luis Salgado Fame, The Musical GALA Hispanic Theatre

Ashleigh King, who picked up the Helen for her Legally Blonde choreography, burst into a broad smile that radiated throughout her thank-you speech. She listed herself as “spirited” in the discussions. Indeed.

Outstanding Choreography in a Musical – Hayes
Grady McLeod Bowman Singin’ in the Rain Olney Theatre Center
Byron Easley Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical Olney Theatre Center
Denis Jones A Chorus Line Signature Theatre
Parker Esse Newsies Arena Stage
Katie Spelman Cabaret Olney Theatre Center

The Hayes prize was picked up by the personable, popular choreographer Parker Esse for Newsies. He praised his wife and son for their support and echoed others when he said, “Can’t wait to get back at it, to take risks, reach higher and challenged to be a better artist.”

Outstanding Direction in a Play – Hayes
Vivienne Benesch Love’s Labor’s Lost Folger Theatre
Jose Carrasquillo The Brothers Size 1st Stage
Robert Richmond Nell Gwynn Folger Theatre
Ryan Rilette, Jared Mezzocchi The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time Round House Theatre
Nicole A. Watson School Girls; Or, the African Mean Girls Play Round House Theatre

While the play directors took a more serious tone with acceptance speeches, Jose Carrasquillo lightened up the mood with his “counted” comment, referring to the Census. Friends called him “honest, nuanced, quiet when necessary, and generous,” and like other winners, he admitted to be “honored and grateful” for the recognition of The Brothers Size

Outstanding Direction in a Play – Helen
Raymond O. Caldwell Blood at the Root Theater Alliance

Danielle A. Drakes Klytmnestra: An Epic Slam Poem Theater Alliance
Rick Hammerly Agnes of God Factory 449
Alex Levy, Juan Francisco Villa columbinus 1st Stage
DeMone Seraphin Topdog/Underdog Avant Bard Theatre
Vato Tsikurishvili Cyrano de Bergerac Synetic Theater

Raymond O. Caldwell paid a beautiful tribute to his mother, 12 siblings, and father, who urged him to “delve into the Black culture and understand the danger of whiteness.” The theme of Black Lives Matter was a common thread to the awards, and nobody said it better than the director of Blood at the Root: “I stand with all the people. History should matter in Anacostia. This is the least we can do.”

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Amy Kotkin reports: The fifth evening of this year’s Helen Hayes Awards proves once again that we humans can successfully summon and share a wide range of emotions online. Perched smartly on their Zoom platform, Tẹmídayọ Amay and Dane Figueroa Edidi, both of whom received Helen Hayes awards this year, hosted a warm and welcoming evening honoring Outstanding Supporting Performer in a Play – Helen and Outstanding Sound Design – Helen and Hayes.

Outstanding Supporting Performer in a Play – Helen
Jessica Lefkow Lovers’ Vows We Happy Few Productions
Chloe Mikala The Burn The Hub Theatre
Rebecca Speas As You Like It Brave Spirits Theatre
Zoe Walpole Agnes of God Factory 449
Gabby Wolfe The Burn The Hub Theatre
Aaron Bliden Beep Beep Arts on the Horizon
Brett Cassidy columbinus 1st Stage
Elliott Kashner The Burn The Hub Theatre
Jack Novak Lovers’ Vows We Happy Few Productions
Gary Perkins III Airness The Keegan Theatre & 1st Stage
Chris Stezin Airness The Keegan Theatre & 1st Stage
Matt Stover Cyrano de Bergerac Synetic Theater

First-time nominee Zoe Walpole, who played Agnes in Factory 449’s production of Agnes of God with former Helen Hayes awardees Felicia Curry and Nanna Ingvarsson, was the recipient. In her modest remarks she alluded to her esteemed castmates by acknowledging that she is always “better in a room that challenges me.” Matt Stover, also a first-time nominee, received the award for his portrayal of the wonderfully hapless Christian in Synetic Theatre’s production of Cyrano de Bergerac. Clearly moved, he paid tribute to the Synetic and to his family, mentioning that his mother, Carol, was a former Helen Hayes nominee.

Outstanding Sound Design – Helen
e’Marcus Harper-Short Topdog/Underdog Avant Bard Theatre
Kenny Neal columbinus 1st Stage
Kenny Neal Airness The Keegan Theatre & 1st Stage
Tony Starnes Blood at the Root Theater Alliance
Tom Teasley, Chao Tian The White Snake Constellation Theatre Company

Outstanding Sound Design – Hayes
Ryan Hickey A Chorus Line Signature Theatre
Kenny Neal The Royale Olney Theatre Center & 1st Stage
Kenny Neal Oil Olney Theatre Center
Sarah O’Halloran The Brothers Size 1st Stage
Andre Pleuss The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time Round House Theatre
Matt Rowe Cabaret Olney Theatre Center

Kenny Neal, who received four nominations for his work on sound design (two each in the Helen and Hayes categories), received the Hayes award for his work on the Olney Theatre Center and 1st Stage production of The Royale. Called “a master of his craft” by one colleague and lauded for “caring so much” by another, Neal paid special tribute to the spirit of cooperation that was created by the two theaters for this well-regarded production. First-time nominee Tony Starnes was delightfully startled as he was awarded the Helen for the Theater Alliance’s Blood at the Root.

While the awardees were appropriately congratulated by the gracious hosts and an explosion of comments online, all the nominees had a terrific opportunity to introduce themselves and to be commended by colleagues. The net result was a wonderful re-affirmation of the power of theater to ignite and soothe our souls, and a great testimony to the hugely creative DMV theater community as a whole. Bravo to all! During these tenuous times, who could ask for more?

If you would like to join a community breakout room,
use this form.

Friday, September 4, 2020

Michele L. Simms-Burton reports: If you are Zoomed out, don’t give up on the virtual Helen Hayes Awards events just yet. Tune in not only to support theater in Metro DC but also to bear witness to how the theater takes its production skills to Zoom. With only one audio hiccup, the entire evening made sitting before a computer monitor enjoyable.

While attending the virtual Helen Hayes awards ceremony was nothing like being in the theater, enthusiasm was evident from the nominees, the participants in the “community room,” and the hosts Frank Britton and Naomi Jacobson; and the vibe from the “quiet storm” music, the carefully curated slides, and the crisp and focused still shots of the actors provided a glimpse into the professional possibilities for virtual productions when experts get involved.

Logging in for the first session, which was the award for Outstanding Set Design – Helen, one hundred participants hung out in the community room and used the chat box to cheer on the nominees. In an effort to be more inclusive and to end the binary lens through which theater sometimes views gender, nominees introduced themselves with their pronouns. theatreWashington President Amy Austin also acknowledged that these are times to “affirm the heightened need for equity” and “recognize the need for change” in theater.

Friday night’s three sessions presented the nominees and recipients for Outstanding Set Design – Helen and Hayes, Outstanding Lead Performer in a Play – Hayes, and Outstanding Lead Performer in a Musical – Hayes.

Outstanding Set Design – Helen
Nephelie Andonyadis Topdog/Underdog Avant Bard Theatre

Jessica Cancino Daddy Long Legs Monumental Theatre Company
A.J. Guban Little Shop of Horrors Constellation Theatre Company
David A. Hopkins A Christmas Story Toby’s Dinner Theatre
Joseph Musumeci Jr. Crystal Creek Motel Flying V
Jonathan Dahm Roberston Blood at the Root Theater Alliance

Outstanding Set Design – Hayes
Debra Booth Richard the Third Shakespeare Theatre Company
Wilson Chin Cabaret Olney Theatre Center
Paul Tate DePoo III Grand Hotel Signature Theatre
Milagros Ponce de Leon Into the Woods Ford’s Theatre
Milagros Ponce de Leon (Set Designer), Clint Allen (Projections/Media Designer) Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical Olney Theatre Center
Giorgos Tsappas The Brothers Size 1st Stage

Outstanding Lead Performer in a Play – Hayes
Kelley Curran The Oresteia Shakespeare Theatre Company
Shannon Dorsey BLKS Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company
Catherine Eaton Oil Olney Theatre Center
Kashayna Johnson School Girls; Or, the African Mean Girls Play Round House Theatre
Laura C. Harris The Heiress Arena Stage
Alison Luff Nell Gwynn Folger Theatre
Sarah Marshall Doubt, A Parable Studio Theatre
Harrison Bryan The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time Round House Theatre
Christian Conn Doubt, A Parable Studio Theatre
John Treacy Egan Ken Ludwig’s A Comedy of Tenors Olney Theatre Center
Zachary Fine Love’s Labor’s Lost Folger Theatre
Gary-Kayi Fletcher The Brothers Size 1st Stage

Outstanding Lead Performer in a Musical – Hayes
Felicia Curry Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! The Musical The Kennedy Center
Nova Y Payton Ain’t Misbehavin’ Signature Theatre
Malinda Kathleen Reese Once Olney Theatre Center
Awa Sal Secka Into the Woods Ford’s Theatre
Erin Weaver Newsies Arena Stage
Rhett Guter Singin’ in the Rain Olney Theatre Center
Gregory Maheu Once Olney Theatre Center
Daniel J Maldonado Newsies Arena Stage
Kevin McAllister Ain’t Misbehavin’ Signature Theatre
Mason Alexander Park Cabaret Olney Theatre Center

Perhaps no winner appeared more surprised than Gary-Kayi Fletcher, who received the Outstanding Lead Performer in a Play – Hayes award for his role as Ogun Size in The Brothers Size. Momentarily wordless and having not prepared an acceptance speech, after the amazement settled into his face Fletcher thanked everyone whose names could find their way to his lips as he confessed that his mind traveled faster than words. He also revealed that he had left theater for a period. This made his award more than rewarding.

Everyone’s graciousness shined tonight during these challenging and unprecedented times and reminded us that Metro DC has a vibrant and wonderful theater community waiting patiently for when we can convene and commune in physical spaces again.

Thursday, September 3, 2020

Dana Roberts reports: Tonight’s hosts and co-presenters were Deidre LaWan Starnes, Associate Artistic Director with 1st Stage and an actor and director, and Felicia Curry, actor and former Helen Hayes Award recipient. As with previous evenings, the event was sign-language interpreted, and an online audience of approximately 70 watched the ceremonies from a breakout Zoom room. Although the dress code wasn’t the formal attire usually seen at the live event, Curry added some fun and flair to the evening by changing her outfit between sessions to simulate a bit of the “red carpet” atmosphere.

The categories for the evening were Outstanding Supporting Performer in a Musical – Helen, Outstanding Costume Design – Helen and Hayes, and Outstanding Original Play or Musical Adaptation. theatreWashington CEO and President Amy Austin spoke before each session about the heightened need for equity in a time when theater is suffering in the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Emphasizing the importance of recognizing  transgender, nonbinary, and gender-nonconforming performers, Austin remarked that the theme was not new but long overdue as theaters need to become more aware of gender inclusivity.

Each session began with the nominees introducing themselves with the show and theater company of their nomination. The hosts read accolades from their colleagues to give viewers a glimpse of their accomplishments and commitment to their work.

Outstanding Supporting Performer in a Musical – Helen Teresa Danskey Fame, The Musical GALA Hispanic Theatre
Susan Oliveras Fame, The Musical GALA Hispanic Theatre
Molly Rumberger Be More Chill Monumental Theatre Company
Molly Rumberger Disenchanted! Creative Cauldron
Alana Thomas Little Shop of Horrors Constellation Theatre Company
Chani Wereley Little Shop of Horrors Constellation Theatre Company
Marty Austin Lamar Little Shop of Horrors Constellation Theatre Company
Christian Montgomery Be More Chill Monumental Theatre Company
Josh Simon Disney’s Beauty and the Beast Creative Cauldron
Fashad Tyler Black Nativity Anacostia Playhouse
Greg Watkins Legally Blonde The Keegan Theatre

After Molly Rumberger received her award for her role as Chloe in Be More Chill, her husband popped into the Zoom shot with a little happy dance, providing a cute moment. She spoke poignantly to remind theater artists that “what we do is important, and it’s going to stay important…there is still work we have to do.”  And in accepting his award for his role as Callahan in Legally Blonde, Greg Watkins revealed that he had been pursuing a higher degree at Catholic University and left to pursue theater—a decision he did not regret even in the present situation.

Outstanding Costume Design – Helen
Kristen Ahern Daddy Long Legs Monumental Theatre Company
Jeanette Christensen Elephant & Piggie’s “We Are In A Play!” Adventure Theatre MTC
Alison Samantha Johnson Cyrano de Bergerac Synetic Theater
Frank Labovitz Little Shop of Horrors Constellation Theatre Company
Amy MacDonald Blood at the Root Theater Alliance

Outstanding Costume Design – Hayes
Tracy Christensen Love’s Labor’s Lost Folger Theatre
Mariah Anzaldo Hale Nell Gwynn Folger Theatre
Wade Laboissonniere Into the Woods Ford’s Theatre
Pei Lee Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical Olney Theatre Center
Merrily Murray-Walsh Jubilee Arena Stage

Notable for Outstanding Costume Design session was the fact that most of the nominees displayed their expertise by dressing in stylish clothes for their appearance at this event. And it was Hayes recipient Wade Laboissonniere who spoke movingly of the current circumstances facing the theater community and the particular challenges faced by costume designers, such how to keep their connection to actors during fittings while dealing with social distancing.

Outstanding Original Play or Musical Adaptation
Dane Figueroa Edidi Klytmnestra: An Epic Slam Poem Theater Alliance

Patrick Flynn The Velveteen Rabbit Adventure Theatre MTC
Ellen McLaughlin The Oresteia Shakespeare Theatre Company
Matt Minnicino A Misanthrope Avant Bard Theatre
Tom Warburton, Mo Willems, Deborah Wicks La Puma Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! The Musical The Kennedy Center

Lady Dane Figueroa Edidi, recognized for writing Klytmnestra: An Epic Slam Poem (in which she also starred), is the first trans woman of color to be nominated for a Helen Hayes Award. She gave a very moving and powerful acceptance speech referencing trans performance artists and the strong need for creating an institution of change within the performing arts.

A recurrent theme with all the nominees throughout the evening seemed to be grateful—gratitude for their nomination and to be working in their craft, despite all the current difficulties faced with the pandemic.

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

David Siegel reports: The second evening of virtual Helen Hayes Awards was simply marvelous. It was full of glowing moments, happy tears, heartfelt tributes, and charming thank-yous from nominees and recipients.

The warm, well-accomplished Zoom production was guided by the natural grace of hosts and co-presenters Regina Aquino and Justin Weaks. The entire evening was sign-language interpreted, and a hundred or so viewers gathered in a breakout Zoom room to silently cheer on the event with comments in chat and gestures of applause.

The categories for the evening were Outstanding Supporting Performer in a Play – Hayes, Outstanding Performer – Visiting Production, and Outstanding Musical Direction – both Helen and Hayes. A session for each provided viewers the opportunity to meet the nominees and learn a bit about them as the hosts read aloud praise for them from colleagues in the theater community.

Introducing each session, theatreWashington President Amy Austin spoke eloquently about the DC-area theatre community during these stressful times brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. She also spoke directly from the heart about the loss of DC theater activist and long-time theatreWashignton Board President, the late Victor Shargai.

Explaining the newly renamed gender-inclusive categories for outstanding individual performances, Austin spoke movingly about the harm and pain caused to transgender, nonbinary, and gender-nonconforming performers by the previous “actor” and “actress” designations.

Each of the three sessions was full of wonderfully infectious energy and intimacy. There was a lovely decency and kindness to the entire evening, with delightful nervousness and sweet happy-teary moments. There was also a captivating and personal authenticity as each nominee and recipient was seen in Zoom closeup.

Among the highlights of the evening were Moriamo Tẹmídayọ Akibu’s exultant acceptance speech for their history-making award as first nonbinary Outstanding Supporting Performer in a Play – Hayes, and Pat Kinevane’s celebratory raise-a-glass reaction from five hours ahead in Ireland. Vincent Randazzo recalled his mother’s joy when his name was announced. And Bobby McCoy, nominated twice in the same category, scored the award for his musical direction at Keegan—where he started working when he was 16.

Outstanding Supporting Performer in a Play – Hayes
Moriamo Tẹmídayọ Akibu School Girls; Or, the African Mean Girls Play Round House Theatre

Shannon Dorsey Fairview Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company
Jade Jones School Girls; Or, the African Mean Girls Play Round House Theatre
Sarah Marshall Admissions Studio Theatre
Nancy Robinette The Heiress Arena Stage
Kathryn Tkel A Doll’s House, Part 2 Round House Theatre
Christopher Dinolfo Nell Gwynn Folger Theatre
Juri Henley-Cohn Oslo Round House Theatre
Vincent Randazzo Vanity Fair Shakespeare Theatre Company
Justin Weaks BLKS Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company
Elan Zafir Twelve Angry Men Ford’s Theatre

Outstanding Performer – Visiting Production
Jayne Atkinson Ann Arena Stage
Anthony Chisholm Jitney Arena Stage
Sasson Gabay The Band’s Visit The Kennedy Center
Steven Anthony Jones Jitney Arena Stage
Russell Jordan Vivian’s Music 1969 The Essential Theatre
Pat Kinevane Silent Solas Nua
Pomme Koch The Band’s Visit The Kennedy Center

Outstanding Musical Direction – Helen
Marika Countouris We’re Gonna Die Flying V
Walter “Bobby” McCoy Legally Blonde The Keegan Theatre
Walter “Bobby” McCoy Little Shop of Horrors Constellation Theatre Company
Ross Scott Rawlings A Christmas Story Toby’s Dinner Theatre
Refiye Tappan On Air Creative Cauldron

Outstanding Musical Direction – Hayes
Laura Bergquist Newsies Arena Stage
Jon Kalbfleisch A Chorus Line Signature Theatre
Mark G. Meadows Ain’t Misbehavin’ Signature Theatre
William Yanesh Into the Woods Ford’s Theatre
Christopher Youstra Cabaret Olney Theatre Center

Monday, August 31 

Bob Ashby reports: The first-ever virtual Helen Hayes awards began their multi-evening run Monday night, August 31. Presented using a smooth Zoom production, credited to Creative Video of Washington, Monday’s three sessions followed a common format. Each began with an introduction by theaterWashington President Amy Austin, followed by the evening’s presenters (on this night a trio from Happenstance Theatre: Sabrina Mandell, Mark Jaster, and Gwen Grastrof),  who introduced each nominee and read a tribute to the nominee from a collaborator or friend. Then the recipients were announced after which each made a brief statement. The presentation was sign-language interpreted (last night by Lucas King and Cheryl Henderson from First Chair). The process was efficient; each session was substantially shorter than the 45 minutes allotted for it.

Between the nominees in the main Zoom room and an audience in the Zoom breakout room, there were a little over 100 participants in each session. Since everyone present was visible on screen, it was a chance for members of the theater community who had not seen each other during the dry season of COVID to say hello and gather in the same plaace, even if a virtual space. It was this, as well as the recognition of outstanding work, that made the evening meaningful.

The evening opened with the awards for Outstanding Lighting Design. The session made the awards in both the Helen and Hayes categories. It also “squeezed” lighting design, as such, into a single category with projection and media design, a decision that, according to Amy Austin’s introductory comment, caused some disagreement and will be reevaluated before next year’s awards.

The acceptance remarks by recipients Alberto Segarra, Kelly Colburn, and William D’Eugenio all emphasized the role of theater in the ongoing movement for social justice, a theme that ran throughout the evening.

Outstanding Lighting Design – Helen
Johnathan Alexander Topdog/Underdog Avant Bard Theatre
Brian S. Allard Cyrano de Bergerac Synetic Theater
Lynn Joslin On Air Creative Cauldron
Conor Mulligan columbinus 1st Stage
Alberto Segarra (Lighting Designer), Kelly Colburn (Projections/Media Designer) Blood at the Root Theater Alliance

Outstanding Lighting Design – Hayes
Colin K. Bills Cabaret Olney Theatre Center
William D’Eugenio The Brothers Size 1st Stage
Adam Honore A Chorus Line Signature Theatre
Sherrice Mojgani The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time Round House Theatre
Rui Rita Into the Woods Ford’s Theatre

Ten performers were nominated for Outstanding Supporting Performer in a Musical – Hayes, a category that was dominated by Signature Theater, with six, and Olney Theatre Center, with three (Ford’s Theatre had the tenth nomination). In her opening statement, Amy Austin emphasized that characterizing the gender-inclusive award as being for “performers,” as distinct from “actor” and “actress,” was intended to avoid harm to transgender, nonbinary, and gender-nonconforming performers. This practice is being followed in all individual acting categories, with two awards in each. The theme of gender inclusiveness was echoed in the introductions of the presenters and nominees, who each identified their pronouns.

The two Helen recipients—Samantha M. Gershman and Jeff Gorti, who both tearfully accepted—had appeared in the same production. And a very excited Hayes recipient, John Poncy, was this year’s youngest nominee, for a performance he gave when he was 11.

Outstanding Supporting Performer in a Musical – Hayes
Samantha M Gershman A Chorus Line Signature Theatre

Jade Jones Into the Woods Ford’s Theatre
Donna Migliaccio Cabaret Olney Theatre Center
Tracy Lynn Olivera Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical Olney Theatre Center
Tracy Lynn Olivera Assassins Signature Theatre
Christopher Bloch Assassins Signature Theatre
Jeff Gorti A Chorus Line Signature Theatre
Vincent Kempski Assassins Signature Theatre
Bobby Smith Grand Hotel Signature Theatre
Jacob Scott Tischler Singin’ in the Rain Olney Theatre Center

Outstanding Lead Performer in a Musical – Helen
Tanya DeLeon Fame, The Musical GALA Hispanic Theatre
Gabriella DeLuca Legally Blonde The Keegan Theatre
Nora Palka On Air Creative Cauldron
Eleanor Todd Disney’s Beauty and the Beast Creative Cauldron
Karen Vincent Elephant & Piggie’s “We Are in a Play!” Adventure Theatre MTC
Caroline Wolfson Daddy Long Legs Monumental Theatre Company
Kurt Boehm Daddy Long Legs Monumental Theatre Company
Juan Luis Espinal Fame, The Musical GALA Hispanic Theatre
Christian Montgomery Little Shop of Horrors Constellation Theatre Company
John Poncy A Christmas Story Toby’s Dinner Theatre
Jonah Schwartz Huckleberry Finn’s Big River Adventure Theatre MTC

This story will be updated as the 2020 Helen Hayes Awards celebration re-Zooms. Videos of awards sessions are available on theatreWashington’s YouTube channel.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here