TheatreWashington Announces New System for Helen Hayes Awards
By Carey Purcell
TheatreWashington has announced an updated system for the Helen Hayes Awards that restructures the voting and judging of the awards that celebrate excellence in Washington, DC-area professional theatre.
The announcement comes after a year-long process of evaluation in which the Board of Directors voted unanimously to restructure the system. The more than 200 productions eligible for awards in a year had made the existing adjudication system challenging, and it was not possible for all productions to be adjudicated by all judges.
In the newly restructured system, productions eligible for a Helen Hayes Award will now be assessed as one of two equal types of production. Productions in which less than 51 percent of the cast appears on an Actors Equity Association (Equity) contract and have less than three Equity contracted actors in the cast will be assessed by the "Helen" cohort of judges. Productions presented under a theatre company's Equity agreement or a production in which at least 51 percent of the cast is working on an Equity Contract will be assessed by the "Hayes" cohort of judges.
All awards given will continue to be named Helen Hayes Awards.
"We are so pleased, and so excited to finally share this enormous breakthrough with the public," theatreWashington president and CEO Linda Levy said in a statement. "These changes, which reflect extensive input from our theatre community, will not only make the Helen Hayes Awards entirely relevant to the work created on Washington stages today, but will serve us far into the future."
The qualifications of the judges have also been restructured. Judges will be nominated by individual artistic directors, vetted by theatreWashington staff and then voted upon by all artistic directors, who will have access to application materials and resumes.
"The most important goal was to find a way for the same group of judges to see the same group of productions eligible for the same awards to produce the most credible outcome. Basically, we had two choices. We could greatly reduce the number of eligible productions by altering the criteria, which would needlessly eliminate some of our strongest and most innovative theatres," Levy said in a statement. "Or we could create groups of productions and judges, defined by relevant industry-based criteria that avoids marginalizing of any award, promotes fairness and common sense in awards outcomes, allows theatres some choice in how their productions are considered and enables more theatres and artists to benefit from the Helen Hayes Award credential."
The process of determining award recipients has also been adjusted, introducing a "second look" element that has been added to the process of determining final recipients. Previously, the judges' scoring of production elements created statistical reports that simultaneously determined nominees and recipients. That point-based system will continue to determine nominees. At the close of the calendar year, judges will meet in their groups and review all nominated productions through the use of visual representations and open discussion. Facilitators will ensure that the exercise is one of recall and sharing, not of lobbying or persuasion. Judges will then rank the nominees in each category by secret ballot. The results will determine award recipients.
"Today we got to share with our constituent theatres, artists and audiences the result of more than a year's worth of research, analysis, recommendations, and testing," Levy said in a statement. "But I want to stress that this is still a working model. There will be aspects of this new structure that will work, and there will be aspects that may not. But we will remain flexible and responsive to the needs of our community. We're eager to see what happens, and we're eager to build on these new innovations."
"I'm enormously proud of this organization and of our entire theatre community," outgoing board chair Victor Shargai said in a statement. "The phrase 'due diligence' doesn't come close to describing the work of the task force — and the input from the community has been absolutely critical to our success. Together we've entered a new era. I can't wait to witness the results."
The awards are named for DC native Helen Hayes, the 20th century actress of Broadway and American stages.
More information can be found by visiting theatrewashington.org.
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