A 2012 Helen Hayes Awards (Drama Prom) Diary

Large crowds of peers; suits and dresses of all shapes and sizes; a night full of brief greetings and close encounters. It’s no wonder why DC’s Helen Hayes Awards Gala is affectionately known as Drama Prom. Even though last year’s initial experience had its ups and downs, unlike high school prom you can try for a better time next year!

So I did just that and I had a wonderful time despite some odd similarities. Here’s how Washington’s biggest night in theatre unfolded through my eyes. If you are interested in finding out who walked away with the coveted hardware just scroll down to the bottom of the post.

9:39 AM

I woke up with a shooting pain in my lower back and a stomach feeling less than 100%. Spending the past weekend at Cafe Citron probably wasn’t the best idea. On top of my body ailments the Orange Line decided to break down (big surprise), delaying my commute into the office.

Not a great start to Prom day but I kept a positive attitude a trudged along the work day.

2:39 PM

I couldn’t believe it was happening. Again. A year after my Helen Hayes date woke up with pinkeye and had to bail, my date woke up terribly ill and was unable to attend the festivities. I began to wonder if I have been cursed or if the ghost of Helen Hayes was haunting me.

Luckily fellow arts writer Joanna saved the day and stepped into Jenn’s place, saving me from awkwardly roaming the Helen Hayes Awards alone.

5:30 PM

The post-awards bar wasn’t even open yet and I was a hot mess. After returning from the office, I inhaled a Subway sub (my pre-show meal wasn’t as nice as the meals Dog & Pony DC or Forum Theatre enjoyed). Back at home I had my suit laid out from the night before, ready to put on. I just needed to gather my camera gear.

However my camera decided to not turn on. I spent 20 minutes  fixing it, falling behind schedule. I rushed out the door with my outfit and my camera gear in disarray (remembered the bow-tie, forgot the pocket square!) For some reason taxis in Clarendon became rare around rush hour and I was left standing on the corner of Clarendon & Highland looking like a dolt.

Just like last year, a neighbor saw me waiting and remarked on how nicely dressed I was. Maybe I should wear a bow tie more often.

6:10 PM

I arrived to the Warner Theatre with a few minutes to spare before the Red Carpet event. I met up with Sophie from the Washingtonian and we discussed recent shows and potential wardrobe malfunctions as theatreWashington chairman Victor Shargai hammed it up on the carpet with every single VIP that walked through the hallway. It was his night and you could tell with the way he pranced around the carpet. Among the notables that showed up were MSNBC’s Chris Matthews, Congressman Jim Moran, and Dr. Rebecca Klemm– who sported by far the most amazing Helen Hayes outfit of the night.

Victor Shargai and Chris Matthews

Fresh from his less than stellar Jeopardy appearance, Matthews looked noticeably lost. In fact he had trouble finding himself off the carpet and ended up standing in the background of a Voice of America video interview. Nothing like a Chris Matthews photo-bomb to spice up your segment.

Chris Matthews joins Jim Moran on the carpet

The Numbers Lady, Dr. Rebecca Klemm

6:30 PM

My date for the night arrived and she looked stunning, not too bad for a few hours notice. Together we all waited for the man of the hour: Kevin Spacey, who was to be honored with a special Helen Hayes tribute. We started to make bets on how long he’ll make the media wait for his arrival.

7:17 PM

In our boredom we attempted to sensationalize Rep. Moran greeting a constituent.

7:29 PM

Spacey arrived and the crowd went wild. It was amazing to see how quick the photographers got out of there once they snapped the photos of Spacey they needed. He spent a few minutes on the carpet before ducking into the Theatre bar, where he made it five feet until he was mobbed by patrons including Elanor Holmes Norton.

Joanna and I walked around the crowd and headed for the open bar but we ran into Peter Marks, theatre critic for the Washington Post. He spotted me across the room and boomed, “Patrick Pho! We Love DC!” I’ve never met Peter in person before and he knew who I was. I squeed a little bit inside as I extended my hand out to him. He introduced me to others as a rising theatre writer and my heart started beating a little bit faster. Joanna was similarly starstuck as well:

Only in DC would I be in a room with a Hollywood celebrity yet go crazy over a member of the media. We talked about writing, theatre, and the awards before the ushers started to push us towards the theatre. We didn’t even get a chance to grab a drink.

7:50 PM

Huge traffic jam to get up the stairs into the theatre. Joanna and I decided to stay back and enjoy a drink courtesy the flask I snuck in. Shocked? Don’t be. It’s a Helen Hayes tradition to sneak in your own alcohol.

8:29 PM

The night kicked off with a nice musical number and a totebag-wielding Linda Levy Grossman. As she encouraged both tweeting during the performance and made some sort of appeal to support DC Theatre I couldn’t help but wonder if I was transported into a PBS telethon.

8:51 PM

The Hub Theatre walked away with the first Helen Hayes Award of the night for Best new Play or Musical. It was then that we heard one of the most honest acceptance speech lines ever, “I really needed this.” Hosts Holly Twyford and Felicia Curry got a local reference laugh by dropping the names of Peter Marks and Trey Graham. Graham declared that he has made it upon hearing that he was mentioned on stage. Chris Matthews presented an award and still looked lost.

A trend emerged as winners said they didn’t expect to win and started to thank loved ones that couldn’t make it to the show. Presenters also had difficulty pronouncing  the names of any nominees from Synetic Theater.

Eleanor Holmes Norton used her booming voice that Capitol Hill is used to in announcing a few Helen Hayes nominees.

9:22 PM

Jane Lang and Paul Sprenger are honored for their work in renovating the Atlas Theatre and for leading the way in revitalizing H-Street. A musical number entitled “$hit Theatre People Say” got laughs but I agree that it would have been better as a YouTube video instead of a big song and dance number.

There’s already a video like that on YouTube? Well I bet the Helen Hayes Performers could have done a better video.

Rep. Jim Moran attempted to outdo Holmes Norton in presenting nominees, ended up sounding a bit too enthusiastic about reading names. Hugo Weaving won a Helen Hayes award but he’s too famous to show up.

9:41 PM

The show kept rolling on with a montage for those that have passed away over the past year and a rousing number that sucked up to the sponsors. Nothing terribly different compared to last year’s death montage and plea for money.

So my cell phone battery was lasting but I was getting hungry. Others couldn’t wait to get out of their outfits and hit the dance floor.

9:57 PM

A video introduction from President Bill Clinton led into a video tribute of Kevin Spacey. Some may have been surprised to see a Clinton cameo but I remembered Spacey’s cameo in Clinton’s last Nerd Prom video.

Spacey took the stage and immediately won the night. He asked for the house lights to come up so he could see the audience and started to drop F-bombs. He told a great story about his mother and Bill Clinton that allowed him to go into a great impersonation. The audience hung on to every line up to his final word of advice: “Everybody out there who has a dream- fuckin’ live it!”

YouTube Preview Image

10:39 PM

With Arena’s Ruined and Signautre Theatre’s Hairspray landing the final honors of the night Joanna and I high-tailed it to the JW Marriott for the best part of the night: the after party.

We ran into many DC notables including Michael Dove from Forum Theatre and actors  John Loughney and Katie McManus. Katie sported a humongous flower on her dress, which I loved almost as much as I loved the beef sliders and mini grilled cheese sandwiches that were served. I was really hungry.

11:05 PM

Joanna and I ventured into the ballroom with the dance floor and we found a DJ trying to channel her inner Gaga with a wig and gigantic foam dress. We also ran into Joshua Morgan from No Rules Theatre who took a liking to my bow tie.

12:27 AM

The long lines at the bar have drove us to start ordering drinks two at a time. We waited in yet another line for the photobooth where we took this amazing photo.

12:38 AM

The night is almost at an end and the bartenders started to close shop which only meant one thing: time to get the hell out of dodge. Before leaving for the night we met up with our very own Fedward for a WeLoveDC family photo. Joanna and I headed back into Arlington more tired than inebriated but we had a pretty good night. We got up close with Kevin Spacey, watched Chris Matthews wander around a hallway confused, and met the dreamy Peter Marks. All in all a pretty good prom night.

The 2012 Helen Hayes Awards Winners

Outstanding Resident Play


Arena Stage


Outstanding Resident Musical


Signature Theatre


Outstanding Production, Theatre for Young Audiences

Charlotte’s Web

Adventure Theatre


Outstanding Lead Actress, Resident Play

Erica Sullivan

Venus in Fur

Studio Theatre


Outstanding Lead Actress, Resident Play

Rena Brown


Bay Theatre Company, Inc.


The Robert Prosky Award for Outstanding Lead Actor, Resident Play

Mitchell Hebert

After the Fall

Theater J


Outstanding Lead Actress, Resident Musical

Carolyn Cole


Signature Theatre


Outstanding Lead Actor, Resident Musical

Euan Morton


Ford’s Theatre and Theater J


Outstanding Non-Resident Production

Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Arena Stage


Outstanding Ensemble, Resident Play

King Lear

Synetic Theater


Outstanding Ensemble, Resident Musical


Signature Theatre


Outstanding Supporting Actress, Resident Play

Gabriela Fernandez-Coffey

After the Fall

Theater J


Outstanding Supporting Actor, Resident Play

Ted Van Griethuysen

Much Ado About Nothing

Shakespeare Theatre Company


Outstanding Lead Actor, Non-Resident Production

Sahr Ngaujah


Shakespeare Theatre Company


Outstanding Lead Actress, Non-Resident Production

Cate Blanchett

Uncle Vanya

Kennedy Center


The John Aniello Award for Outstanding Emerging Theatre Company

Faction of Fools Theatre Company


Outstanding Supporting Actress, Resident Musical

Nova Payton


Signature Theatre


Outstanding Supporting Performer, Non-Resident Production

Hugo Weaving

Uncle Vanya

Kennedy Center


Outstanding Supporting Actor, Resident Musical

Matthew Delorenzo


Studio Theatre 2ndStage


Outstanding Costume Design, Resident Production

Kendra Rai

Green Bird

Constellation Theatre Company


Outstanding Choreography, Resident Production

Ben Cunis

King Lear

Synetic Theater


Outstanding Choreography, Resident Production

Irina Tsikurishvili

King Lear

Synetic Theater


Outstanding Musical Direction, Resident Production

Jon Kalbfleisch


Signature Theatre


Outstanding Sound Design, Resident Production

Konstantine Lortkipanidze

King Lear

Synetic Theater


Outstanding Sound Design, Resident Production

Irakli Kavsadze

King Lear

Synetic Theater


Outstanding Sound Design, Resident Production

Chris Baine

A Bright New Boise

Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company


Outstanding Lighting Design, Resident Production

Andrew Griffin

King Lear

Synetic Theater


Outstanding Set Design, Resident Production

Lee Savage

Much Ado About Nothing

Shakespeare Theatre Company


Outstanding Director, Resident Play

Aaron Posner


Folger Theatre


Outstanding Director, Resident Musical

Michael Baron

A Year With Frog and Toad

Adventure Theatre


The Charles MacArthur Award for Outstanding New Play or Musical

Marc Acito

Birds of a Feather

Hub Theatre

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] welovedc.com

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