Theatre Advocate Victor Shargai to Recieve Helen Hayes Tribute, 4/21
Longtime theatreWashington Board Chairman Victor Shargai will be honored with the Helen Hayes Tribute at the 30th Annual Helen Hayes Awards on Monday, April 21, 2014 at the National Building Museum. In addition to serving as theatreWashington's board chair since 1997, Shargai has been instrumental in advocating for the entire Washington theatre community. As a board member and patron of several flagship theatres, he played a leading role in the area's artistic renaissance, which saw the number of professional theatres grow exponentially, creating an environment that now supports more than 200 productions annually.
Joy Zinoman, founding artistic director of The Studio Theatre, commented, "I've known Victor since before there was a Helen Hayes Awards. He's always been a super-fan, a super-cheerleader, and he's a Robin Hood." She elaborated, "It's not that he takes from the rich and gives to the poor. I don't mean that. But, because of his exquisite taste and his passion, he was able to advise potential patrons, he was able to guide their interests to where the support was really needed, and where it would have results."
Shargai's commitment to the arts has its roots in his own professional career. A native of New York City, he enjoyed an early passion for the theatre, taking acting and dancing lessons and auditioning for Broadway plays in his early teens. As a youngster, he appeared in radio plays on WNYC and worked in summer stock. During his college years, while studying in England, he appeared on BBC television programs and onstage at the Bristol Old Vic. At the same time, he spent a week with Bertolt Brecht's Berliner Ensemble, and saw the original, historic production of Mother Courage.
Back in the United States, Shargai worked at the Phoenicia Playhouse, where he designed costumes for two productions, and appeared in The Crucible under the direction of Adrian Hall. While completing his bachelor's degree at Queens College, NY, his interests shifted to costume design. The 1960s saw Shargai on the staff at Ray Diffen Stage Clothes, where he served as an assistant to such Broadway legends as Dorothy Jeakins, Irene Sharaff, and Theoni V. Aldredge. With a growing interest in interior design, Shargai began studies at New York's Interior Design Institute. He finished his Broadway career at a high point, assisting the legendary Rouben Ter-Arutunian on his Tony Award-winning costume designs for Arturo Ui, starring Christopher Plummer.
Shargai's relationship with his late partner John Aniello brought him to Washington, DC in 1964 when he began an interior design career that soon put him at the pinnacle of the field. Making his initial mark while on staff at W & J Sloane, he opened Victor Shargai and Associates with Aniello in the early 1970s. His credits include designs for Colin and Alma Powell, Jim Johnson and Maxine Isaacs, Joseph and Alma Gildenhorn, and other leading figures in Washington society. In addition to his work on private homes, Shargai served as an advisor on White House renovations, designed offices for the White House Council and Secretary of Commerce, and corporate headquarters at Sallie Mae and Fannie Mae, among others.
Throughout his decades of work in the Washington area, Shargai made an enormous impact on the burgeoning professional theatre community. He brought his artistic expertise and business acumen to many boards, including The Washington Ballet, The Studio Theatre, Signature Theatre, the Charlin Jazz Festival, the Kennedy Center Community Board, the What to Expect Foundation, and the Laurel Fund, which provides scholarships to young people studying the performing arts.
When Betti Brown, Helen Hayes Awards Founding Executive Director, invited Shargai to join The Helen Hayes Awards Board of Directors in 1987, Shargai found a lasting home for his passions and skills. Zinoman commented, "At the Helen Hayes Awards, Victor found a place where he could really breathe. He found a place where he could work for all the theatres in the Washington area." During his tenure as Board Chair, beginning in 1997, Shargai helped establish the Awards as an internationally recognized standard for excellence. Most recently, he facilitated the organization's rebranding as theatreWashington, a name that reflects the organization's range of services for theatres, artists and audiences.
theatreWashington President & CEO Linda Levy commented, "I don't think I'm exaggerating when I say that Victor made our work possible for the last thirty years. He didn't do it alone, but his unflagging energy and his high spirits have kept us going, kept us inspired, and given us the stamina to go the extra mile. Personally, I couldn't have done it without him-and I think that's true for so many arts leaders in this community."
A ubiquitous presence at Washington area theatres large and small, with his partner Craig Pascal, Shargai has gathered and inspired artists, audiences, and patrons through his astounding personal generosity and charisma. And indeed, during his time in Washington, Shargai has witnessed theatre's tremendous growth-from only a few area theatres to the robust landscape of today.
"When I first came to Washington, as a transplanted New York professional, I didn't miss a production of any kind in the town," said Shargai. "I went to The National to see pre-Broadway productions, and also visit old friends who were in the company. I got a subscription to Arena Stage and to the Folger, and to other theatres that no longer exist. But the explosion of theatre in Washington has created a very difficult condition for anyone who loves theatre - the amount of time I spend planning my theatre schedule now is amazing even to me, and still I miss plays I want to see, and while checking theatreWashington's website for what's playing on a Sunday evening, I often discover something I'd wanted to see and find I've just missed the last performance."
The Helen Hayes Tribute has been presented to Actors' Equity Association, Kevin Spacey, James Earl Jones, Mary Martin, Angela Lansbury, Tommy Tune, Edward Albee, Derek Jacobi, the Artistic Directors of Washington's professional theatres, Stephen Sondheim, and August Wilson, among others.
"Over the years, the people who have received the Helen Hayes Awards have created a pantheon of artists who have made theatre in America - and perhaps the world - such a thriving institution," said Shargai. "I am honestly overwhelmed to be included with these great people. The joy that Washington theatre has given me in the many years that I've been in this region really makes me want to give something very special to all of those involved in making theatre here. In good times, in bad times, theatre has given me the strength to move forward, and the inspiration to work harder, to find support and give support, to this nonpareil of theatre companies."
A video honoring his life and work will be featured during the 30th Annual Helen Hayes Awards, to be celebrated April 21, 2014 at the National Building Museum.
The Helen Hayes Awards is a program of theatreWashington, the only organization dedicated to strengthening, representing, and supporting all segments of Washington's professional theatre community - theatres, artists, company members, and diverse audiences of all ages - and our community as a whole. For more information and tickets to the Awards, visit theatreWashington.org or call 202-337-4572.
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