MS. REBECCA SHEIR
Welcome back to "Metro Connection." I'm Rebecca Sheir and today we're looking at ways Washingtonians are thinking outside the box and coming up with some rather unconventional and often unexpected ideas. We'll kick off this part of the show with an idea that's unconventional and unexpected in a rather dramatic way, I guess you could say.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN 2
Good evening, everyone and welcome to the 27th Annual Helen Hayes Awards.
Each April, the Helen Hayes Award recognizes excellence in professional theater throughout the Washington area. But next Saturday the Washington theater community is presenting an entirely different kind of award, not to an outstanding professional on the stage but to an outstanding person in the audience.
MS. LORRAINE TREANOR
Because without an audience a play is a rehearsal, you know.
Lorraine Treanor publishes the website dctheatrescene.
A play is such an ephemeral thing, you know. It's not a painting you can go and see again. It's not a movie you can go to see again. But really, it resides in the memory and in the passion of the people who receive that.
And so she created the Gary Lee Maker Audience Award to honor these very people. It's named for Gary Lee Maker, the consummate Washington theater fan who, in February, died of cancer at age 68.
Gary was a close friend and I always knew him as someone who grabs somebody's hand and takes them to the theater. And I just thought, I don't want his joy and his wisdom to pass.
And just to give an example of what she means...
This is a little hard to say, but we were talking and we knew that this was probably the last time. And out of the blue, he said I wish I bought tickets to Follies and I said why? And he said, so I can leave them for someone.
Stephen Sondheim's classic musical is playing now at the Kennedy Center. It's a star-studded production with Bernadette Peters, Elaine Paige, Jan Maxwell, and Ron Raines.
MR. DAVID TANNOUS
It is magical and I can understand why Gary wanted to see it. In fact, I've seen it twice already and I'm going to see it again.
Which shouldn't come as a surprise given the voracious theatrical appetite of this fellow. His name is David Tannous.
And I am the very surprised recipient of this award. When Lorraine called me up, I said, what? What? What? But I've been going to theater here, well, maybe for 30 years and I have to think back how long it's been.
But whatever the number, David has been hopping around the ever-growing Washington theater scene for quite a while. And with an average of 30 shows opening each month, that's a lot of hopping. Just take a look at his Rockports.
The soles are almost completely gone and the fronts are very badly scuffed beyond any attention of shoe polish. And so I wore these deliberately today because these are my D.C. theater shoes and I wear them out in all senses of the phrase.
He sure does. He says his previous D.C. theater shoes were held together by duct tape.
And I do have a new pair of shoes so this is not an on-air solicitation for a new pair of shoes for baby here.
But it is proof that David Tannous is one committed theatergoer. Yet members of the nominating committee like Washington Shakespeare Company's Jay Hardee...
MR. JAY HARDEE
It just seemed completely obvious to me that it would be David Tannous. Like, how could it be somebody other than David Tannous?
...didn't choose David for his quantity of theater going, they chose him for his quality and the unbridled zeal he radiates from his usual front row center seat.
I remember we did a production of "Dangerous Liaisons" which I think David saw five times. And each time, you could hear him reacting like it was the first time he had seen it. And, like, you know she was going to say that. But there would be this very honest-like intake of air that you could hear from the front row center. And you just know that he's engaged in this way that actors just appreciate so much.
As does the rest of the audience or so says Christopher Henley, WSC's artistic director and another member of the Gary Lee Maker Audience Award Committee.
MR. CHRISTOPHER HENLEY
Every audience is different and has its own character, show to show and David being in the audience always makes that show one of the most engaging and engaged. And the entire audience kind of feels freed to enjoy the show more.
And it's the same infectious quality that made Gary Lee Maker such a beloved audience member says Susan Abjure (sp?) , his long-time friend, especially she says when it came to his laugh.
MS. SUSAN ABJURE
And he wasn't shy about using it and you know, as he would do that you would see other audience members starting to respond to it.
Susan says Gary also used to write up reviews of the plays he saw and email them to his massive list of friends.
And before email was common, Gary would write all these reviews out by hand and snail mail them to everyone. He was that big a supporter and had that much enthusiasm for the theater.
Not unlike the first recipient of the award that bears his name. Now David Tannous doesn't mass email personal reviews, but he has been known to stuff his pockets with local theater brochures and distribute them to fellow theater goers before the show.
And this is my semi-joke, but the theater has become my religion. I proselytize and I carry tracks.
And of course, he takes the opportunity to talk up Washington theater whenever and wherever he can, including, yes, during public radio interviews.
I want to say to everybody listening to this you have a treasure in so many different theater groups in the D.C. area and it is worth you making a little effort to find this treasure and to enjoy it.
Because after all, like D.C. theater scenes, Lorraine Treanor says a play needs an audience...
You are the last beat of the play when that play is over. Theater is being written for you. You need to be there.
...whether you're in the upper mezzanine, the side orchestra box or, yes, front row center, wearing your D.C. theater shoes. The Gary Lee Maker Audience Award will be presented June 11th at Artisphere in Rosslyn, Va. For more information on the award and for a ton of resources on the latest and greatest in D.C. area theater, visit our website, metroconnection.org
Transcripts of WAMU programs are available for personal use. Transcripts are provided "As Is" without warranties of any kind, either express or implied. WAMU does not warrant that the transcript is error-free. For all WAMU programs, the broadcast audio should be considered the authoritative version. Transcripts are owned by WAMU 88.5 FM American University Radio and are protected by laws in both the United States and international law. You may not sell or modify transcripts or reproduce, display, distribute, or otherwise use the transcript, in whole or in part, in any way for any public or commercial purpose without the express written permission of WAMU. All requests for uses beyond personal and noncommercial use should be referred to (202) 885-1200.