The Helen Hayes Awards Process: 2013 and Before

Jen Clements


One of the country’s most prestigious cultural honors, The Helen Hayes Awards recognizes and celebrates excellence in professional theatre throughout the Washington metropolitan area. The Awards serve as a valued credential for theatres just getting started, for those already established, and, of course, for individual theatre artists.

The Awards process was developed over 27 years by the Helen Hayes Awards Rules Committee, adopted by The Helen Hayes Awards Board of Directors, and went into effect January 1, 2003. Now, the Helen Hayes Awards Board of Governors oversees all Awards rules and procedures. The full Rules for the Administration of The Helen Hayes Awards are available on

The Awards Process

- applicable through the end of the 2013 adjudication year

  • Several months prior to the judging cycle (January 1 – December 31) artistic directors are asked to submit the names of those individuals they believe meet the defined criteria for Helen Hayes Awards judges.
  • Prospective judges submit applications for review by a selection committee that is comprised of, among others, three area artistic directors.
  • The selection committee evaluates all applications based on the defined criteria, with special attention given to any real or perceived conflict of interest of an applicant and the intent to create a diverse and proportional mix of theatre professionals, academics, journalists, and learned audience members.
  • From the applicant pool, the Selection Committee identifies between 50 and 60 individuals to serve as judges.
  • Subsequent to their selection, a series of orientations are conduced to insure that the judges fully understand the scope of their responsibility and the rights of all theatres.
  • Eight judges from the pool are then assigned to see each eligible production. No judge will evaluate a performance at a theatre where he/she has a real or a perceived conflict of interest.
  • Judges evaluate each artist in the production on a 0 - 10 graded point scale in each category, and submit their ballots within 24 hours of seeing a show.
  • At the conclusion of the 12-month judging cycle, the combined point total from the judges who saw each show determines the final nominees in each category. In the case of tied votes, a tie-breaking system is used. If the tie cannot be broken, the number of nominees increases commensurately.
  • Following the announcement of the nominees, the process is concluded to determine the final recipient in each category. In the case of tied votes, a tie-breaking system is used. If the tie cannot be broken, the number of recipients increases accordingly.
  • Theatre Eligibility

    Any legitimate live stage play is eligible for consideration in the Helen Hayes Awards process if:

  • It is presented within the Washington, D.C. area, which is inclusive of all theatres located in the District of Columbia, the counties of Arlington, Fairfax, Montgomery, and Prince Georges, the city of Alexandria, the Route 29 corridor up to and including the community of Columbia, and the Route 50 Corridor to and including the city of Annapolis;
  • It is produced by a theatre or producing organization which financially compensates all artists on a regular basis;
  • It is presented publicly before paying audiences for at least 16 performances at a single location;
  • It provides the requisite number of tickets to accommodate attendance by eight judges plus one alternate judge;
  • The theatre or producing organization must legally acquire the rights to present the production; and
  • The theatre or producing organization notifies theatreWashington of the production at least three weeks prior to opening.
  • A new theatre company that presents a minimum of one production each year over a consecutive two-year period is eligible for consideration for the John Aniello Award. The John Aniello Award encourages and recognizes exceptional work of an emerging theatre company that is new, daring and exciting. During a company’s first year, it may choose to be considered as a “candidate” or “emerging” theatre company and request that its productions be seen by members of the Board of Governors as a prelude to its eligibility in its third year.

The Judges

Serving as a Helen Hayes Awards Judge is a selfless act; a volunteer position requiring enormous time, consideration, and dedication. It is also a meaningful and rewarding responsibility. All judge applications are thoroughly vetted and reviewed by a Selection Committee of area Artistic Directors. The judging pool is comprised of 50–60 arts professionals, journalists, academics and lifelong knowledgeable theatre-goers. Each judge is required to see between 30-40 productions each year.