As you may have noticed, we live in data-driven times. You can get ideas from data, especially when there’s plenty of it. And if you look at the data enmeshed in the Feb. 4 announcement of the nominees for the 2019 Helen Hayes Awards, which recognize excellence in professional theater in Washington, D.C., you get a pretty good sense of our local theater community — how it’s changed, its growth, its pulsating diversity and to some extent its uniqueness.
One of the reasons that growth and diversity have become apparent is the revision instituted several years ago, which split the awards into “Helen” and “Hayes” divisions according to the percentage of Equity members involved in a given production (less than 51 percent equals Helen and more than 51 percent equals Hayes).
It was a more significant distinction than just small and big, and the result was an explosion of nominations, with additional add-ons of new categories, revealing the scope and breadth and depth of the D.C. theater community.
That can be seen in the raw data of this year’s nominations. Check it out: 260 nominations culled in 47 categories, the choices made by 40 judges who looked at 2,866 individual works, including 51 musicals and 157 plays, of which 54 were world premieres.
These Helen Hayes Awards nominations, the 35th, saw four theaters nominated for the first time, along with a 19-percent increase in the overall number of productions recognized.
The nominations also validated the very idea of the Women’s Voices Theater Festival, which was repeated in 2018, three years after the festival’s debut, when some 30 D.C. theaters opened their seasons with original plays by women playwrights, a remarkably risky but ultimately successful effort, both critically and financially.
This year’s Women’s Voices Theater Festival accounted for two dozen nominations from eight productions.
Also noticeable in this year’s lineup was the continued success of Ford’s Theatre, which hauled in 13 nominations for its electric production of “The Wiz,” followed by “Fly By Night” at 1st Stage with nine and Arena Stage’s “Anything Goes,” the Keegan Theatre’s “Chicago” and Signature Theatre’s rock musical “Girlfriend,” all with eight. Overall, Arena Stage and 1st Stage led in the totals with 25 and 22 nominations, respectively.
Those numbers indicated that old favorites in the musical arena, favored with high-energy productions and sometimes new looks, could still draw big crowds in theaters of all sizes. These included not only “The Wiz,” “Anything Goes” and “Chicago,” but “Camelot” at the Shakespeare Theatre and “Billy Elliott” and Sondheim’s “Passion” at Signature. The world-premiere musical “Dave” at Arena Stage, based on the 1993 film starring Kevin Kline, received multiple nominations.
Companies on the list for the first time include Annapolis Shakespeare Company, the Brave Spirits Theatre, the Compass Rose Theater and the Monumental Theatre Company.
Seeking honors for top plays in the Helen category were three productions from Woolly Mammoth staged during the company’s final season under founder and Artistic Director Howard Shalwitz: “Botticelli in the Fire,” “Familiar” and “Gloria.” Also nominated in the category were Paula Vogel’s “Indecent” at Arena and “The Wolves” at Studio Theatre.
“We’re celebrating an extraordinary year in Washington theater,” said Amy Austin, president and CEO of Theatre Washington. “With 24 nominations from the second national Women’s Voices Theater Festival, and contributions from local and national artists who create some of the most interesting and diverse theater in the country, we continue to honor the legacy of our namesake Helen Hayes, who believed in theater as activism.”
The awards ceremony will take place on Monday, May 13, at the Anthem, 901 Wharf St. SW. For details, visit theatrewashington.org.