Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Spotlight On...Jennifer Fell Hayes

Name: Jennifer Fell Hayes

Hometown: My hometown is Harrogate, North Yorkshire, England, formerly a Victorian Spa town patronized by “crowned heads” of Europe! Also called by Dickens “The town of tinkling tea shoppes.” I mostly grew up just outside the town in a beautiful little village called Follifoot, in an old house called The Priory which had been a rest house for monks coming through the old forest of Knaresborough to the ancient abbeys.  There was a secret passage!

Education: I went to an English boarding school for girls – my mother’s old school – from the age of 9, two years early, so was young for my class, graduating at 16, not 18. It was called Oakfield School, in Kirkby Lonsdale, Cumbria.  The building was a former home of Lord and Lady Cavendish-Bentinck and was a large, rather Gothic pile that was freezing in winter! No carpets or curtains in the dormitories.  British “toughen ‘em up” attitude!  I spent a lot of time in sick-bay! I was a reporter on the local Harrogate papers for a year, then attended the  Central School of Speech and Drama, (now called Royal Central), London University.

Favorite Credits: I have several plays published by the Dramatic Publishing Company:  Way’s End, Seven Ages of Anne, Time and TideNothing in Common is published by Samuel French.   I co-authored Pioneer Journeys:  Drama in Museum Education which won Distinguished Book Award from the American Alliance of Theatre and Education.  I was playwright-in-residence for City Lights Youth Theatre for ten years.  I was one of three winners in the TRU Voices Annual New Plays Reading Series with my play, Endurance. I have been Head of the Arts Department at Riverdale Country School, creator of and Head of the Performing Arts Department at the Spence School, and Director of Drama at Friends Seminary.  I taught drama, or English and drama, full time for 49 years! (Don’t put the 49 years in!!) I was commissioned to write plays for The Abigail Adams Smith Museum, New York,(which changed its name to the Mount Vernon Hotel Museum because of my play), for the John Jay Heritage Museum, the Museum of the Native American, the Liberty Science Center and others.  These plays were interactive so children in the audience became characters in the play.

Why theater?: Why theatre?  I don’t know where it came from, but since a child of maybe seven I started putting on little plays in our basement playroom, persuading my brother and neighborhood children to take part, albeit reluctantly!  When I was nine my parents took us to London for the first time and we saw several shows.  One was a musical called, “Love from Judy” and was based on the famous classic for girls, “Daddy Longlegs.”  Jean Carson was starring.  In the cab on the way back to our hotel my father kept asking me if I had enjoyed it, and all I would do was turn away to stare out of the cab window, saying, “Don’t speak!  Don’t speak!”  wanting to stay in the moment.  I was theatre-struck forever.

Tell us about Rosemary and Time?: Rosemary and Time is a play with a number of themes that are important to me:  family relationships; motherhood; dealing with the past; love and redemption.  I had a very happy childhood myself, but know a number of people who were not so fortunate. It is set in Yorkshire, my beloved native land, which is an inspiration to me. 

What inspired you to write Rosemary and Time?: I was inspired to write Rosemary and Time after hearing a story from Duncan, a Yorkshire friend of mine during dinner. The story moved me, and I felt immediately there was a play in it.    I asked Duncan if he could put me in touch with the woman whose story he told, and so I was able to meet with Sally, who becomes “Rosemary” in the play.  She was very willing to talk with me and to let me write a play based on her story.  She also arranged for me to meet Margaret, who is “Hilda” in the play.  I explained to them that I was not writing a documentary, but would head off into fiction from the basis of their story, and they were fine with that.  I sent them a copy of the first draft before any readings or presentations to get their OK.  They liked it very much and seemed delighted that a play would come out of their lives. I have tried to write the best play I can – it has gone through many drafts! – to honor their trust in me.

What kind of theater speaks to you? What or who inspires you as an artist?: Theatre that speaks to me has integrity and authenticity, has meaning, no matter how playful. I Sense and Sensibility very much, for instance, and also productions of the Knee High Theatre like Tristan and Isolde which I saw at St. Ann’s Warehouse, or Brief Encounter, or The Wild Bride.  I love good language, poetic language – I love Shakespeare in a well-done production.  I love humor –enjoy wacky British humor!  Yorkshire humor! – and plays that speak truthfully to the human condition. I like new plays as well as classical plays.  I am inspired by great art – I used to teach drama and creative writing to groups of teachers at the Metropolitan museum over a seven-year period, and was awed and thrilled to be working alongside many of the great painting and sculptures while trying to inspire others.  Also, music – Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert for instance -  brings me to a heightened creative state.  I love dance performances and opera.  I am inspired by wonderful writing, plays or fiction, and read widely.  I have been a bookworm since I was a child.  I go into panic if I don’t have a big pile by the bed! (Currently Nature’s Engraver, a Life of Thomas Bewick, by Jenny Uglow; The Book of Dust, by Philip Pulman; Commonwealth, Ann Patchett; Thirst, poems by Mary Oliver, Fire and Fury, Michael Wolff, Darwin’s Doubt, Stephen C Meyer.) I am inspired by brilliant acting, and am a big fan of Mark Rylance, for instance.  I will see Farinelli and the King next month. I adore going to the theatre and even if I don’t care for a particular play can usually take something away from it.

If you could work with anyone you’ve yet to work with, who would it be?: Not sure about who I’d work with!

What show have you recommended to your friends?: I have recommended the National Theatre’s new Production of Angels in America, now coming to Broadway from London.   The wonderful Psalms concerts in November, part of the Lincoln Center’s Festival of Light.  Annie Baker’s John at the Signature.  Pinter’s No Man’s Land, Becket’s Waiting for Godot, with Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen.  The all-women Henry IV from the Warehouse, London, brought over to St. Ann’s.  Come From Away, the musical.

If you could work with anyone you’ve yet to work with, who would it be?: Perhaps Judi Dench!  (She comes from York) It would be called “It’s About Life.”

What show have you recommended to your friends?: I would like to see all the Shakespeare plays in their original productions! Would like to have seen the original of West Side Story, and  Oklahoma when it first came to London from New York just after WWII – from my parents’ description, it was an astonishing burst of golden sunshine that transported them after the horrors of the war.  Wish I could have seen all the late great American and English actors in their time. 

What’s your biggest guilty pleasure?: My biggest guilty pleasure – h’mm.  perhaps to buy a pretty new item of clothing when I shouldn’t really spend the money!

If you weren’t working in theater, you would be _____?: I might be a photographer or artist in some way.

What’s up next?: I am trying to write a play about Darwin in Yorkshire, and want to get back to that and see if I can pull it off.  I also want to do some painting. And I just got married so hope to find some time for a honeymoon!