UNCSA Drama alumnus wins Helen Hayes Award for Washington, D.C., theater production of “The Tempest”

An alumnus from the School of Drama at UNCSA has won a Helen Hayes Award for his role in a production that took place at the Round House Theatre in Washington, D.C. Hassiem Muhammad (B.F.A. ’18) won an award for outstanding supporting performer in a play alongside Ryan Sellers for their performance as Caliban in the 2022 production of “The Tempest.” This is Muhammad’s first major award as a professional actor post-graduation. The Helen Hayes Awards are often referred to as the D.C. equivalent of the Tony Awards.

“It’s a great honor to be recognized by dozens of theater professionals and I’m very grateful for this award,” Muhammad said. “To get the recognition as an artist of color, moments like this reaffirm that I am enough.

“None of us get into this business for accolades, but the role was on my bucket list and it was a part I’ve always wanted,” he continued. “For the rest of my life, I’m going to be an award-winning actor and I get to carry this with me. I’m extremely happy and I couldn’t have asked for a better company to do it with.”

Hassiem Muhammad at the 2023 Helen Hayes Awards Ceremony

Hassiem Muhammad at the 2023 Helen Hayes Awards Ceremony

UNCSA Drama faculty member Robin McNair said: "Hassiem worked with a combination of discipline and joy. As a student, he was always curious and ready to work. I’m overjoyed for his accomplishments. Couldn’t happen to a better person."

Muhammad noted that this role took a vast amount of preparation to bring to life, including daily gym workouts, physical therapy every week and voice coaching. He mentioned that the role encompassed every facet of what he learned from his time in the Drama program. “My training at UNCSA was instrumental in being able to do this role and it was literally a perfect example of everything you learn at the school. It was acting, it was voice and it was movement,” he said.

Despite having an understudy, Muhammad never missed a single show during the entire production. He performed eight — sometimes nine shows a week for 10 weeks straight. “It was incredibly taxing physically because we had warm-ups, movement calls, head-to-toe body painting and then I would head to a vocal warm-up, all before the show starts.”

Hassiem Muhammad / Photo: Round House Theatre

Hassiem Muhammad / Photo: Round House Theatre

“The Tempest” was adapted and directed by Aaron Posner and Teller of Penn & Teller fame, and choreographed by Pilobolus. It earned 12 nominations and won four awards. UNCSA Drama alumnus Ro Boddie (High School ’05, B.F.A ’09) was also part of the cast and mentored Muhammed.

Design and Production alumnus Christopher Annas-Lee (B.F.A. ’14) also won an award for outstanding lighting design in a play for “On Your Feet!,” which ran at the GALA Hispanic Theatre. Annas-Lee has previously won three Helen Hayes awards for his work on “In the Heights,” “Yerma” and “Non-Equity.”

Recognizing work from 131 eligible productions presented in the 2022 calendar year, nominations were made in 41 categories. Nominations are the result of 40 carefully vetted judges considering 2,146 individual pieces of work, such as design, direction, choreography, performances, and more. This year’s ceremony marked the second year the award’s ceremony shifted to gender-neutral prizes with two winners selected from 10 nominees in each category.

About the Helen Hayes Awards

The Helen Hayes Awards recognize outstanding achievement from more than 60 professional theaters and hundreds of theater-makers across the Washington, D.C., region each year. Named for Helen Hayes, the legendary First Lady of the American Theatre born in Washington, D.C., region the awards celebrate the artists and theater companies whose work makes Washington a thriving, nationally recognized theater community. The Helen Hayes Awards are traditionally celebrated each spring during a festive awards ceremony.

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May 25, 2023