Helen Hayes Awards Considering Reforms to System

By Carey Purcell
15 Aug 2013

Eric Schaeffer
Eric Schaeffer
Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

Washington, DC's Helen Hayes Awards are facing requests to separate their awards into two tiers, dividing larger and smaller theatre groups, according to the Washington Post.

Several smaller theatre companies argued against the reform at a summit run by TheatreWashington in June, while the Post reports that seven larger companies have stated if reforms are not implemented, they may not continue involvement with the Awards.

Heads of three theaters — Eric Schaeffer of Signature Theatre, Paul Tetreault of Ford's Theatre and Molly Smith of Arena Stage — met with TheatreWashington president and CEO Linda Levy Grossman, Abel Lopez, Brad Watkins and Glen Howard of TheatreWashington. The Shakespeare Theatre Company, Studio Theatre, Round House Theatre and The Kennedy Center have also aligned themselves with the Signature, Ford and Arena theatres. The theatres sent TheatreWashington a letter that mentioned the "possibility" of rethinking their participation in the Awards if changes are not implemented.

The Helen Hayes Awards have faced criticism for their all-inclusive process, which weighs cash-poor troupes alongside well-established larger companies. The youth-oriented theatres, of which there are many in DC, have also complicated the award-giving.



After a survey was sent to 82 theatre leaders in December 2012, 80 people responded in less than two weeks, and 76 percent supported adding categories to the awards in order to distinguish between larger and smaller theatres, Grossman told the Post.

Many of the smaller theatre companies have expressed opposition to the reforms.

"I would rather not be seen as second-class citizen," Hub Theatre artistic director Helen Pafumi said to the Post. "It's not a light I want to have shed on the Hub Theatre. I feel very, very strongly that if the Helen Hayes Awards splits, it flies in the face of everything they should be about."

Compared to other cities' award-giving processes, the Helen Hayes Awards contain few requirements. Chicago's Jeff Awards distinguish between Equity and non-Equity companies, which are judged by a committee of 50 professionals. The nominations are made by five judges per show, plus two people from the artistic and technical committee and the entire committee then votes on winners.

Philadelphia's Barrymore Awards recently announced reforms to its system, which include salary requirements to establish eligibility. The Barrymores are also attempting to create a smaller, more professional panel of 10-12 judges who see up to 60 productions per year. The productions are recommended by a larger, rotating group of nominators.

The Helen Hayes Awards' requirements differ greatly; they require that a theatre "financially compensates all artists on a regular basis" in order to be eligible for an award. And of its 60 judges, eight are assigned to evaluate eligible productions.  Eight of the judges cast ballots for the shows, which create the list of nominees and, eventually, the winners. There is no separate voting process once the nominees are announced, and the nominees are not evaluated by any single body of judges.

A task force regarding changing the Helen Hayes Awards has been active since May. An announcement regarding, what, if any, reforms will take place is expected in September.