The Whispered Conversations

“The whispered conversations in overcrowded hallways
So much to say, not just today but always...
We'll have early morning madness
We'll have magic in the making
Yes, everything's as if we never said goodbye . . .”

With a nod to Sir Andrew Lloyd Weber’s lyrics from Sunset Boulevard I fervently believe that great philosophy is found within a show tune. These words characterize our time-honored ritual each February in the National Theatre’s Helen Hayes Gallery (named for our beloved benefactor), and most recently on February 27, to announce the Helen Hayes Awards Nominees.

When it’s my turn, I climb the four steps to the Gallery’s mini stage, and in four-inch heels no less, which for me, is an achievement in itself. I fear that not since the committee on un-American activities have people been so anxious to hear someone naming names. I look out at the faces of 200 talented colleagues and enthusiastic theatre supporters. And I am filled with anticipation . . . . and dread.

Dread? Yes, dread. Because I am about to read the names of some 150 nominated actors, designers, directors, and ensembles –- out of almost 3,000 individual pieces of work presented during the awards year. The source of my dread is not just that someone’s gonna get left out, but that erroneous assumptions about how those determinations were made will prevail, will be perceived as fact . . . when they’re not.

While I’m reading the names, I can feel myself smile at the nominated work I saw . . . regret not getting to the nominated work I wasn’t able to see . . . and lament about many names not read. You see, although I experience theatre as part of my job, I am also an audience member.

It both thrills me to see outstanding work recognized with nominations that those theatres and artists will use to progress their careers and organizations, and saddens me –- just as it would any audience member –- when something that has profoundly moved me will not have that same opportunity. Frankly, I know there will be many others who will feel the same way: in the press, the blogs, facebook posts, there will be words like “snubbed,” “overlooked,” or “dismissed”. But the more one understands the nominations process, logically, realistically, the more one sees that none of those conspiracy theories could be even remotely possible.

I confess that I’ve always been the kind of person that wants everyone to be happy. I’ve even made extra turkeys at thanksgiving just to make sure everyone got dark meat. It’s just in my DNA. But despite my personal disappointment, I know that the process that gave rise to those determinations was the result of years of refinement and input from a cross section of theatre professionals to ensure the awards are as fair and relevant as any could be for work that is totally subjective. While we may personally disagree with some omissions, no one should ever bemoan a nomination that any artist or work receives -- unless they’ve seen 100% of the eligible work. I believe in the taste and discernment of our judges –- and I believe in the discernment and insightfulness of the artistic directors who empaneled them.

I take a breath to announce the last category of nominees. The room fills with applause deeply appreciative of the artists whose names were just read (although my ability to say “Tsikurishvili” three times could have warranted a polite clap). I make my way down the steps of the mini stage. My feet really hurt from standing so long in those four-inch heels. And my heart is very very full. “The whispered conversations in overcrowded hallways” will soon begin.

I have now exceeded the 500 word limit I impose on others -– and have probably exceeded the attention span a reader can endure in one sitting. But I will continue to share what I was thinking as I descended those steps.

So much to say, not just today but always...