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The Helen Hayes Awards are D.C.’s version of the Tony Awards. It’s earned the nickname “Theatre Prom” as it’s the single night each year where poor, schlubby actors put on their one nice dress (or in my case borrowed finery), wash their hair, and pretend they belong at a Gala. Other actors give the event mixed reviews; some love it, some don’t. Since I’d never been before, I wasn’t sure how I’d feel. I’ve got to say that I really loved it.

The Event: The award ceremony was held at the Warner Theatre, a beautiful space dating back to the 1920s that has a bit of a Broadway feel to it. It holds over 1800 people, and the room was packed to capacity. The will-call line alone was so ridiculous that it wrapped around the back of the street. We were in the nosebleed section of the balcony of course, not being important people whatsoever. This, in our opinion, gave us free rein to heckle, giggle, and scream as our favorite nominees were announced, and just generally misbehave, which earned us dirty looks and begrudging comments from the people in front of us, who clearly believed award shows should be stodgy and boring. We strongly disagree. Theatre should be lively, and what good is an actor if she isn’t causing trouble?

The musical numbers were cute and quick. The two hostesses, local stars Holly Twyford and Felicia Curry, were likewise cute and quick, which helped moved the pace. Chris Matthews from Hardball made a random appearance, but the real guest start was Kevin Spacey. He had Bill Clinton record a pretty hilarious introduction for him, then followed it up with live impersonations of the former President. His passion and love for the theatre was clear. He was funny, entertaining, and genuine, a great host in fact. I also hold a special place in my heart for him since he was the star of the first show I ever saw on Broadway, O’Neill’s The Iceman Cometh,…… yeah. Only a true theatre nerd would pick that one over Rent.

But for me, seeing Kevin Spacey didn’t compete with seeing deserving colleagues recognized for the great work that they do. To look around the room and realize that the couple thousand people present represented only a faction of the people in the greater Washington theatre community again reminded me of just why I picked Washington in which to pursue the arts. The usual big name theatres got their share of expected awards, but a few of the smaller theatres also took stuff away this year. It’s a thrill to watch friends walk up on that stage and be heard. Congrats in particular to Faction of Fools.

The After Party: This was held across the street at the Marriott Hotel. The whole basement complex was taken up with numerous open bars, food buffets, a photo booth, tables of the famous Georgetown cupcakes, and a dance floor with a faux Lady Gaga DJ at the helm. And again, the best part was being in a room with my favorite actors all coming together. We danced, talked, drank, schmoozed, and flirted. Everyone says the party is the best part of the awards, and they were surely right. The only problem was the length. It was short. Granted it was a Monday night, but we got the boot at 1 a.m., which left us with less than two good hours to party, though at least 500 of us dilly-dallied in the lobby or outside for another 45 minutes or so, prolonging the inevitable. We just didn’t want the fun to end.

After a really successful opening to Killing Women this past weekend, attending the Helen Hayes Awards was the perfect way to celebrate. It was a pleasure to have an excuse to look pretty and dress up, and I’ve enjoyed Facebook this week more than any other time. Random pics of the night having been popping up every hour for the past two days. This year, our poster was in a montage with a bunch of other companies; next year we aim to be nominees. Here’s to the living the dream.