Stage corrals 28 noms for professional theater awards

WASHINGTON – Arena Stage received 28 nominations for this year’s Helen Hayes Awards, leading a crowd of 69 professional theaters that performed in the D.C. area during 2003.

Signature Theater and Shakespeare Theater followed with 18 and 15 noms, respectively.

The parade of nominations in 23 categories reflects recent changes in judging guidelines that followed complaints the 20-year-old awards program favored the area’s growing cadre of struggling theaters over Arena and other established troupes. More tinkering with the rules is planned.

The nominees for resident play include Arena’s production of David Auburn’s “Proof” as well as Shakespeare Theater’s opulent production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and its “Richard III,” Round House Theater’s “The Drawer Boy,” Rep Stage’s “The Dazzle” and Theater J’s “Talley’s Folly.”

Arena and Signature Theater dominated the resident musical category. Signature received noms for “110 in the Shade,” “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” and “Follies,” while Arena was toasted for “Camelot” and “Crowns.” The Toby’s Dinner Theater production of “Ragtime, the Musical” also competes in the category.

Among productions vying for the award for new play or musical are Neena Beber’s “Jump/Cut,” co-produced by Theater J and Woolly Mammoth Theater Co.; Ken Ludwig’s “Shakespeare in Hollywood” at Arena; and Matthew Burnett’s “Theophilus North” co-produced by Arena and Geva Theater Center. Tiny Charter Theater also has two productions in the category — Keith Bridges’ “Watching Left” and Chris Stezin’s “What Dogs Do.”

The nominations, unveiled as usual at a reception at the Canadian Embassy here, included the annual status report on D.C. theater by the Helen Hayes Awards organization.

The 69 active area theaters produced 422 shows during 2003, compared with 360 productions from 70 theaters the previous year, the organization said. Only 193 of last year’s shows met the awards program’s 16-performance eligibility minimum.

Some 2,211,969 people attended professional theaters last year, 120,000 more than did so in 2002, per the Hayes org.

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