At Hayes Awards reception, Spacey is the main attraction

April 24, 2012

This isn’t just a theater reception. It’s the Search for Kevin Spacey.

He has to be around here somewhere. The Washington Post-sponsored reception is a sort of pregame for the 28th Helen Hayes Awards at the Warner Theatre, thrown by theatreWashington. The room is buzzing — dressed up and drinking on a school night. Plus, there’ll be A Celebrity In Our Midst.

Everybody is getting their booze and hors d’oeuvres on in the just-so glowing space — it’s like insta-Instagram lighting — and the women especially are all decked out, keeping with the unofficial dress code of the city’s unofficial Theater Prom.

Every woman, that is, except Rebecca Klemm, the event’s “numbers lady” who — having devised the scoring methodology used to determine the night’s winners — is in graduation attire. (When you hold a doctorate in statistics, you can pull off a robe that would fit in at Gryffindor.)

All of you people out there who hate the scoring ties? Klemm doesn’t have the patience for your outrage. “I would be shocked if we had no ties tonight,” she says. By the night’s end, there are two.

A little after 7, he arrives.

Kevin freaking Spacey!

He looks sharp in a dark suit and bowtie. The two-time Oscar winner is being honored with the Helen Hayes Tribute for his contributions to the theater community both as an actor and an arts advocate. He makes it about three steps into the room before he is surrounded on all sides. The masses converge. He is patient through the photo-ops, even though people are asking for “Just one more!” and the picture-taking drags on as fans fumble with their iPhones.

Of course, he is good-humored about this. It is the beginning of what is to be a night of good humor.

Later, during the awards, audience members will stifle giggles through a PowerPoint glitch or two. And the Synetic team will spend much of the night laughing off the fact that presenters still struggle to pronounce their names. (When Irakli Kavsadze and Konstantine Lortkipanidze accept an award for Outstanding Sound Design, Resident Production, they joke about the need to abbreviate their names.)

He doesn’t mind. He loves it here. “Washington has always had vibrant theater,” he says, breaking for an interview. “I’ve been a part of it for many, many years. I’ve done six plays here. So for me, tonight is particularly valuable and important.”

He asserts, though, that we aren’t doing nearly enough for arts advocacy. “We [need] to be putting much more money into the arts than we are,” said Spacey, who’s the artistic director of London’s Old Vic Theatre. “It’s hugely important to our culture, it’s important to us as a nation, and I think any nation that doesn’t embrace its arts and stand up for its arts is a lesser country.”

As he prepares to be feted by Washington’s theater community, what is Spacey most looking forward to?

“Hoping that my embarrassment at hearing people talk about me won’t go on too long.”

Well, there’s an open bar to help you through that.

“That’s true,” he says. “I’ll treat it like the Golden Globes.”

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