Nelson wins a 2nd Hayes Award

Rep Stage actor and teacher honored for his role as Gidger in `Violet Hour'


Bruce Nelson won his second Helen Hayes Award this week for his work with Rep Stage, the professional theater company in residence at Howard Community College.

The Hayes Awards are given annually for excellence in Washington-area theater. At a ceremony Monday night, Nelson, who lives in Baltimore, was named outstanding supporting actor for his role in The Violet Hour.

That production featured the same playwright and director -- Richard Greenberg and Kasi Campbell, respectively -- as Rep Stage's production of The Dazzle, for which Nelson won a Hayes Award in 2004.

In The Violet Hour, Nelson played Gidger, an assistant to a novice publisher who is trying to decide which manuscript to publish while a mysterious machine spits out information from the future.

Campbell said that as Gidger reads about all the people around him becoming famous, his reactions add comic relief to the show. She said the character is also relatable, an "everyman" who labors in obscurity.

Nelson said Gidger was "this irreverent character who is flamboyantly gay at a time [the early 1900s] when there wasn't that association. ... He was definitely an eccentric, very self-assured, and had some great, great lines."

He added: "Working with Kasi and a lovely cast on another Greenberg play, after having had such fun on The Dazzle ... it was wonderful to be back in that world."

Campbell said she thought immediately of Nelson when she read the script.

"Bruce feels very comfortable letting loose, and he enjoys that kind of very wild, out-there character," she said. "Bruce enjoys wordplay, and Richard Greenberg is a master at wordplay."

Campbell also said The Dazzle and The Violet Hour were not well reviewed in New York.

"It was wonderful to bring [those plays] down here to D.C. and get the kind of reviews and notoriety I think they deserve," she said.

Winners of the Helen Hayes Awards are chosen by a panel of judges who attend performances throughout the year. This year, 178 productions were eligible and 56 productions at 25 theaters received nominations.

Richard Montgomery was nominated for designing the set of The Violet Hour for Rep Stage. Toby's Dinner Theatre in Columbia also received two nominations.

Nelson said he was excited to be a repeat winner, but a little embarrassed, as well.

"The feeling was, I've had my award, let someone else get the glory," he said.

But he said he did enjoy being connected again to the Washington theater community after living and working for a few years in Howard County and then moving to Baltimore. He said the recognition has also encouraged him to think strategically about his future projects.

"I always thought it was boasting and arrogant to [seek to] get paid what you are worth," he said. "Now maybe I can let go of that."

Nelson, 40, has been acting for several decades and has performed with Rep Stage 12 times over 13 years.

He teaches improvisation classes at HCC, coaches actors in private sessions and offers public speaking and presentation training for corporate leaders.

Teaching "challenges me in brand new ways," he said. "In a performance, there is a bit of a wall between what happens onstage and the audience. In teaching, that doesn't really exist."

Nelson plans to spend the summer performing A Midsummer Night's Dream with the Baltimore Shakespeare Festival. In the coming year, he will perform with Rep Stage three times, at Everyman Theatre in Baltimore and at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company in Washington.

He said he is looking forward to continuing his successful relationship with Rep Stage, particularly as it undergoes changes. Michael Stebbins recently took over as artistic director, and the theater will have a new performing space this fall when the college's new Visual and Performing Arts building opens.

"It's been so important to me to support what Rep Stage does and that its name continues to grow," he said.

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