Reaction: TheatreWashington Changes Helen Hayes Awards Rules, Splits Into Two Groups


In an announcement this past Tuesday, theatreWashington announced sweeping changes to the rules among which is a division of the awards into two groups. The biggest change is meant to divide professional productions apart from smaller shows.

The revisions come after a year-long study which was brought into the spotlight after the larger theatre companies in DC wrote a letter to theatreWashington asking for reform to the awards process or else they would, “rethink their future involvement.”

After combing through the details on theatreWashington’s site, here are the points the DC Theatre scene needs to know and my take on them.

  • The awards will now be split into to two groups based on the amount of Equity Actors in a cast. “Helen” productions will be for shows where less than 51% of the cast is Equity and no more than three Equity members are in the cast. “Hayes” productions will include shows with more than 51% Equity cast or shows where three or more cast members in Equity.
  • My Take: The move is to clearly delineate shows from “Big” theatres vs. “Small” theatres but since the division occurs on the show level, a theatre could possible have shows that will compete in both categories which makes it more flexible than a hard division of the theatre community. The use of “Helen” and “Hayes” to name the two categories is a smart move to label them as “different but equal” awards. Regardless of the new divisions, each award will still be a Helen Hayes Award. The challenge will be to convince the community at large, who are already joking about the “Helen Helen Hayes” and the “Hayes Helen Hayes.” One cannot deny that budget size (a factor theatreWashington tried to take out of the division process) is a factor in regards to the amount of equity actors that are in a cast so to a certain extent, budget still plays a role in the grouping.
  •  Judging will also get a makeover, four judging panels will be used to adjudicate Plays and Musicals on the Helen and Hayes level. One panel will solely judge plays in the Helen group while another will judge plays in the Hayes group and so on. A fifth panel will also judge new plays and musicals in both groups.
  •  The judges will be nominated and selected by the Artistic Directors of the theatres. Judges will have to go through a vetting process and will consist of former theatre professionals, academics, and “life-long theatregoers.”
  • While the post-show scoring will still determine nominations, there will also be a “second look” session at the end of the year where each judge panel will cast final votes on the nominations to determine the winner.
  • My Take: The new rules on judging certainly gives these awards a more Oscar-race like feel. Also the awards now feel more like celebrating the best of the past year. I wonder if we will see any sort of campaigning now that judges will cast final votes after nominations. While theatreWashington says it will prevent lobbying and persuasion through moderated discussions at these “second look” sessions, it is still totally possible to reach out to the judges (who are identified on the site) and have some lunch, throw a party, and other things people in the Oscar race are familiar with. Will we see Artistic directors get a little bit more strategic with the programming of their seasons? Will we see shows slated towards the end of the year to create more buzz riding into the end of the year?
  • With now twice as many awards to give out the total number of possible awards grows to 47. Not every category doubled with these changes, the non-resident awards shrank from four to two.
  • My Take: I guess theatreWashington got tired of nominating famous actors and out-of-towners, only to see them not show up. Whatever makes for a faster ceremony I say. However with 47 awards how will they fit that into an already long awards night? They can’t, and they haven’t figured out how they are going to tackle that challenge. Will there be two award ceremonies? Will the night only award the “top-line” categories? Will sound, costume, and set awards be given out at another dinner hosted by a celebrity for the techies to fawn over?

We’ll find out more in good time but for now one thing is certain, change is coming and as a whole everybody is at least happy something is being done.

Patrick has been blogging since before it was called blogging. At We Love DC Patrick covers local Theatre, and whatever catches his eye. Patrick’s blog stories, rants, and opinions have been featured in The Washington City Paper, Washington Post Express, CNN, Newschannel 8 Washington, and NBC Washington. See why Patrick loves DC.

You can e-mail him at ppho [at]

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One thought on “Reaction: TheatreWashington Changes Helen Hayes Awards Rules, Splits Into Two Groups

  1. Hi Patrick,

    After reading your article pertaining to the restructuring of the Helen Hayes Awards, we wanted to take the time to clarify a few points that may have been misinterpreted in the feature story.

    As each of our constituent theatres stage work throughout the year, each of their productions will be designated as a Helen production or a Hayes production. This is not to create a “division” or a “split.” Instead, it is to promote quality, consistency, and credibility of the judging process that determines nominees and recipients. In order to make this goal a priority, we have developed this new structure to ensure that the same judges are seeing the same work eligible for the same Helen Hayes Awards. We wanted to ensure that our community remain unified, while still being able to categorize work in such a way that allows the same vetted judges to see all the work in the same category.

    So, as we developed the structure that was revealed on Tuesday, we determined that the best way to go about this was to assign designations to productions–not theatres. The result is that, while some theatre companies may have productions in one category altogether, there is still the opportunity and flexibility for theatres to produce in both, if they so choose–regardless of if they are “big” or “small” theatre company. It is our intention to support all of the incredible work being produced on Washington stages equally and fairly, and to maximize the potential recognition of the Helen Hayes Awards for all theatres. It is also worth noting that regardless of whether a production is a Helen production or a Hayes production, all nominees will receive a Helen Hayes Award Nomination–just as all recipients will receive Helen Hayes Awards.

    This is new for all of us. We appreciate the importance and magnitude of trying to communicate these changes proposed to our community. We would be so grateful if you would consider going back to the language that appears on your site and revising to better reflect the goals and outcomes of the restructured Helen Hayes Awards process.

    If you have any questions, feel free to reach out to me at Thank you for your time, and I hope that your week is coming to a nice close.


    Linda Levy