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    Orlando’s forgotten past inspires playwright’s celebration

    "Joseph Reed Hayes doesn’t remember where or when he heard it but he was aware that thousands of Italian prisoners of war had been held throughout Central Florida — and used as laborers — during World War II. "I don't know how I knew that since I didn’t grow up here," the New York native recalls in a telephone chat. “The people here at the time certainly didn’t know about it.” This footnote in Central Florida history sparked something in the Orlando playwright. “I started imagining what life was like in 1945 Central Florida, where you had these people being held — one way or another,” he says. The result is “If I Had My Way,” the centerpiece of an extended celebration of Hayes’ 20 years as a playwright. Called “The Hayes Project,” the series of events involves a look at the creative evolution of a piece of writing and involves not one but three new plays. The Hayes Project already has garnered attention: The Florida Department of State’s Division of Arts and Culture awarded Hayes an $18,500 grant. Most of the 153 cultural-project grants announced in June went to organizations; Hayes was one of only 29 individuals — and one of just two playwrights — statewide to receive funding."


    Joseph Hayes, one of Central Florida’s most prolific playwrights, moves from a Fringe hit to a world premiere with barely a pause

    "Among the score of shows honored with Critics' Choice awards at last month's Orlando International Fringe Festival, only The Mockingbird News nabbed more than one win, claiming both "Best Individual Performance in a Drama" for star Sarah Lockard and "Best Director" for Leesa Halstead Castaneda. After that triumph, you might expect writer-producer Joseph Reed Hayes to take a break, but he's back at Loch Haven Park with this weekend's world premiere of If I Had My Way, the latest and largest work from one of Central Florida's most prolific playwrights.

    "It was a great experience," gushes Hayes about his first Fringe show since 2004, which came on the 20th anniversary of his first. "There was very little tension; everybody seemed from the very beginning to be on the [same] page. They knew what I was talking about, which is a remarkable thing. For me to hear what is in my head actually come out of a person's mouth the way I thought it was wonderful." Hayes has particular praise for Halstead Castaneda — whom he originally considered for the leading role — and Lockard. "I knew from the very beginning, because it was my brain, that it would be a complex and convoluted play to put on. Particularly for one person, when you've got a script that really could have very easily been a two-hour show, to do all of those words in what amounted to 45 minutes — that's quite a job, and Sarah just did that so brilliantly that she deserved every award that she got for that." The Mockingbird News was the penultimate project in a series funded by a Florida Division of the Arts and Culture "Specific Cultural Project Grant." Hayes was one of only three playwrights in the state to receive the grant, and the only in Orange County, and he sounds as surprised as anyone. "I'm still astounded to this minute that this happened," he says, explaining that he had previously applied for the same grant a decade earlier without success. "It's tough, because it's absolute bureaucracy, and if your brain can't switch over from arts into paperwork, it's really really hard." Hayes says he only applied again last year to "keep something in the pipeline, just to let the state know that there is still interest in funding for arts. It was almost like I'm making a statement, and I fully expected not to get it. ... Then I got that email from the state saying, 'Oh, by the way, we got fully funded. And the application that you put in a year ago that you forgot about by now is going through.'" That funding allowed Hayes to develop his newest show through last December's staged reading and a "jazz show" with Tampa-based band La Lucha, as well as to stage The Mockingbird News, which he says was "almost like clearing out my notebook, using random thoughts that I could tie together into a common theme." The series culminates in If I Had My Way, running June 16-20 at the Orlando Science Center's Digital Adventure Theater, which, with seven actors and a full set, breaks from Hayes' tradition of small-cast black-box shows. Inspired by true events, the show is set during 1945, when Kissimmee was home to a prisoner-of-war camp holding Italian combatants, and features a diverse cast helmed by local stage and screen legend Avis-Marie Barnes. "When one of the people I asked said, 'Avis is interested in talking to you about directing the show,' I burst into tears," Hayes recalls. "She is just a delight and has understood the story from the moment we sat down and talked about it. She is bringing out things that, to be honest, I'm not even sure I knew about these characters; she just makes those connections, and she connects so well with the seven people on stage that I'm delighted beyond words." He also gives Barnes credit for recruiting the majority-Black cast, which includes Eileen Antonescu, Holland Hayes, Jesus Kahwati, Benjamin Mainville, Iris Lynne Sherman, Stelson Telfort and Marian Tuck. "It's a real wide range of people and they've connected immediately," says Hayes. "They're having a lot of fun. I have to leave sometimes just so they can go to work." If I Had My Way's premiere puts a cap on an intense six-and-a-half–month sprint, which was originally intended to be spread over a year, and Hayes already has several new ideas brewing. "It's been a little rough," admits Hayes, adding, "I haven't even had a chance to go from 'Fringe is over' to 'Let's start this.' It was just one long, continuous process, so I'd like to take some time to stop a little bit." But although it's unlikely that Hayes' adult attention deficit hyperactivity disorder — which he openly discussed in Mockingbird News — will let him stay still for very long, he says he wouldn't have it any other way. "I don't think I would be an artist if it wasn't for this neuro-divergence that I live with," says Hayes, crediting ADHD with his ability to "keep several different balls in the air while concentrating on the one I'm working with. ... There's a thing called hyperfocus that ADD people do where the world goes away, and all you're working on is that thing right in front of your nose and you can work on that one thing for 12 hours and not hear anyone else in the room." "I wasn't diagnosed officially until I was in my early 40s, which means until that point I just thought I was nuts," Hayes shares. "The diagnosis itself is enough to free you from that self-doubt and self-loathing [because] once you know that it's how your brain works, it is so freeing that it changes everything. That was the moment in my life where my life changed. ... The combination of always being open to new experiences, and being able to narrow down into the one thing until it's done, I consider it a blessing. I wouldn't be an artist if not for that."


    Florida history, relationships and cultures mix in homegrown ‘If I Had My Way’

    "It’s 1945, and with war raging overseas, a Florida family faces its own battles in “If I Had My Way.” White ranchers, their angry son, their lovestruck Black foreman, an Italian POW laborer, a young Black woman returning home after spreading her wings in the North: These are the characters who collide in the latest play from Orlando writer Joseph Reed Hayes.

    “If I Had My Way” concludes a yearlong project by the playwright with performances June 16-20. Director Avis-Marie Barnes says the play entrances. “There are so many things going on at the same time but it’s still a simple story, so many things to relate to,” she says. “It has a really nice balance of drama and comedy.” “If I Had My Way” also has a dollop of history. During World War II, Central Florida was home to numerous Italian prisoners of war. They were “lent out” to local farms and put to work. The situation of Piero, one such prisoner — forced to work without his freedom — is not lost on Bo, the ranch’s Black foreman. “We are all the same, but we are all different too,” says Stelson Telfort, who plays Bo. “We have to pay attention to those differences and honor those differences.” Barnes finds the setup thought-provoking. “Using detainees as a workforce is very, very familiar — the ethnicity part of it,” she says. “It is interesting to compare the parallels.” The play explores the relationships among the characters in terms of status, race and gender — and Bo and Piero, played by Jesus Kahwati, provide examples of how quick we are to judge. Bo is lucky to have a position of authority in a time when few Black people were given such opportunity — but it’s very limited authority. “It doesn’t mean that I can go anywhere else and say I’m foreman and be treated with respect,” says Telfort, speaking in character. Meanwhile, Piero is the “enemy” of America — but has an advantage over Bo. He can more easily hide his differences. “Until you start speaking, you’re a white man,” Bo reminds him. Standing between the men — and at the center of the story — is Margaret, played by Iris Lynne Sherman. She grew up in the ranch’s kitchen, where her mother worked, and was only too happy to leave that life behind for education in Atlanta and New York City. She is bitter about returning to her childhood home, where both Bo and Piero reach out to her. “She’s in a place where she doesn’t want to be,” says Telfort, partly because her expectations have changed. A contemporary audience can relate to dissatisfaction with home, job and love, Telfort says, fueled in part by the unrealistic expectations bombarding young people on social media. “There’s an ability to sell us a false reality and have us buy into it,” he says. “It has shifted our mindset on what success looks like, what relationships look like, what life looks like.” Decisions by the ranchers’ son Ty, played by Benjamin Mainville, show what can happen when dissatisfaction turns to hate. His actions will also resonate with modern theatergoers, Barnes says. “A lot of things have changed, but a lot hasn’t,” she says. “We’re still ready for an era of enlightenment, and I think plays like this help in that discussion.” Telfort thinks the play also has a strong message of hope as the characters deal with their challenging experiences. “That’s what we’re here to do in the world,” he says, “take the experiences we’ve had and use them to help people and become better people ourselves.”


    Orlando Fringe 2022 review

    "Local playwright Joseph Hayes’ “The Mockingbird News” (Green, 60 minutes) takes a wider view of life and time and sound and art and meaning. It’s a dense play, full of rhythmic sentences that echo the beat of the percussion underscore. The work is lightened by the radiant Sarah Lockard, who tells the stories with gusto and approachability, as directed by Leesa Halstead Castaneda. Drummer Robed Fenelus adds to the sense of movement and helps set the mood with his beats — like the ticking of a clock that is impatient to move forward. There’s a lot here, and I occasionally just let the sound of voice and instrument wash over me rather than digest every well-chosen word literally. In other words, it’s a thinker. Like life itself, you aren’t always sure where it’s going, and you feel as if you don’t always understand everything, but by the end you’re sure you’ve had a journey — and an enjoyable one at that.""


    Orlando Fringe 2022 Review: 'The Mockingbird News'

    "Native mythology holds that the mockingbird, nature’s news-delivering mimic, taught people how to talk. If that’s so, Sarah Lockard has learned its lessons well, as she embodies a vast range of voices in playwright Joseph Reed Hayes’ delightfully ADD tone poem about the power of human language. Across five tenuously connected acts, Lockard leaps fluidly from persona to persona — a Lenny Bruce-boosting stand-up comic in one scene, an aging carny looking back on her abusive childhood in the next — all while propelled by the beats of live percussionist Robed Fenelus. With its mix of beat poetry, bad magic tricks, and Borscht Belt one-liners, this show could fit comfortably into Mrs. Maisel’s Gaslight Café. But beyond the gags, Hayes is reaching to say something real about the relativity of time. Even if I couldn’t always grasp what that something was, under Lisa Halstead Castañeda’s dreamlike direction, the luminous Lockard makes every minute of this expansive ethereal experiment an entrancing experience."


    Poetry as Life in The Mockingbird News

    "The Mockingbird News is a highly engaging work by playwright Joseph Reed Hayes. It quickly draws you in, and makes you feel like you’ve been transported to one of those old Beatnik coffee houses of the 1960s, listening to the Beat Generation’s free form poetry. Poetry as theater, in fact, works exceptionally well in this production performed at this month’s Orlando International Fringe Theatre Festival, thanks in no small part to the outstanding and immensely entertaining performance by Sarah Lockard. The Mockingbird News follows one woman’s lifetime, charted over five different angles; we don’t know her name or identity, but it doesn’t much matter. What’s far more important is watching how skillfully Lockard gives us so many different aspects of the same persona, painting for us brief parts of this character’s life, so that each glimpse becomes more enticing,slowly reaching a greater appreciation of who this character is. The Mockingbird News is also fascinating in the way it captures a universal sense of how all of us change in subtly ways over time. Each momentous shift creates new dynamics that alter how we perceive our surroundings, so that we either run from or actively embrace those changes. Lockard asks us to step into her world for short but tempting moments, which are tied to trauma and heartbreak, but also moments of joy and humor. By the end, we have a much more complete view of the full person, and it was a fascinating journey to get there. Lockard’s bravura role is aided considerably by the only other person on stage, percussionist Robed Fenelus, who provides a sort of running commentary on Lockard’s dialogue as he performs on his drum set — quietly sometimes, ferociously at others. It’s a stunningly effective way to enhance the mood and feel of this captivating spoken poetry. The play is also boosted by the creative staging by director Leesa Halstead Castaneda, who takes a single character and artistically establishes a constant rhythm and flow to the production that adds enormously to our appreciation of it. This was a terrific show about memory and recollection, and where we find ourselves once we begin to look back."


    Victoria Fringe Festival starts with a bang

    "Jewish humour is unique and special. Jewish families are always larger than life, driving you crazy but staying in your heart. Jewish writing can make you laugh and make you cry, but most of all it can make you think. This play by Joseph Reed Hayes and performed by Toshik Bukowiecki and Michael Rodgers, is all of these things; a wonderful 75 minutes of pure theatre, sending you out chuckling and pondering. No crude language, just pure unadulterated entertainment which you won’t want to miss. 5 stars (out of 5)"


    With music and drama, playwright Joseph Hayes debuts 'Destination Moon''

    "In “Destination Moon,” teenage Truly gets the shock of her young life. Hospitalized for most of her 16 years with a fatal illness, she is suddenly given dramatic news: She is going to live. “Destination Moon” is the latest play from Orlando writer Joseph Reed Hayes. It runs Saturday and Sunday, July 14-15, at the Timucua Arts “White House” performance space. While having a death sentence overturned sounds like good news — it would be unsettling if illness is all a person has ever known and longevity has never been in the cards. “She has been told in no uncertain terms she won’t survive,” Hayes says. “She’s never prepared for a normal life.” As with many of Hayes’s works, music plays a strong part in the storytelling. John C. O’Leary III of Tampa band La Lucha has written an underscore for many scenes and vocalist Lauren Carder Fox adds to the atmosphere — singing without using words. “This is a movie on stage in many ways,” Hayes says. As in film, the play’s music is designed to trigger an emotional response. O’Leary and Hayes had long discussions about the principal characters before the composer developed musical themes for them. O’Leary tried to capture the complexity of young Truly, asking himself, “How can I write something that shows her emotional pain but also the hope and potential she has?” Truly’s counterpart in the show is “Doc” Miller, a late-night radio DJ for a jazz station. Although on the surface they would seem to be quite different, “there are commonalities in these two people,” Hayes says. “They spend a lot of time alone in little rooms.” “It’s a comic, tragic nonmusical musical. It’s the way people are. It’s real life.”

  • 13IN13

    Arts advocate: '13' aims to inspire

    "It takes a particular mindset to be a Renaissance man, someone willing to wear the hats of playwright, music producer, freelance writer, radio personality, spoken-word performer, photographer and self-promoter. All those descriptions would fit Orlando arts advocate Joseph Hayes, who wants to harness what he has learned from his diverse interests into an impressive, ambitious and exciting schedule of 13 cultural events in 2013. "All those words have come up to describe it," Hayes says of his "13 in 13" project, a proposed slate of five jazz shows, two of Hayes' own plays, a live holiday radio drama, two arts-oriented workshops, a photo exhibit, movie screening and spoken-word performance. "Slightly mad is another one." To turn the project into reality, Hayes has launched a fundraising campaign on the website Kickstarter.com, where his goal is to raise $7,000 by the Jan. 27 deadline. "I'm very enthusiastic that this is going to work, but it's a gamble," Hayes says. "We're gambling that the audiences of Orlando are looking for original theater and original jazz. It's a risk that organizations don't generally like to take, but I can do it because I'm just one person."


    Freeline Media Review: “Solos”

    "[Solos] is great theater for adults – a show that touches on our emotions as we connect with a couple soaring on the wings of their shared love for music, only to seemingly fall when their differences become too challenging to mount. And that is not even the end of the drama."

  • David Amram, composer, musician, author

    "I have been blessed in my life to compose scores for some of America's finest playwrights. Arthur Miller, Paddy Chayefsky, Archibald MacLeish (the score for the 1958 Pulitzer Prize winning JB), Albert Camus, as well as scores for major feature films. While I am not an expert drama critic, I feel from a lifetime of work in the theater, I know a good playwright when I read outstanding work. Joseph Hayes is one of the new voices that can bring the theater to new audiences. His sense of dialogue and structure, his wit and awareness of the foibles of our society and the humanism that fill the pages of his work make him a true dramatist."


    ‘Solos’ synthesizes theater and jazz

    "If you follow the arc of the output of writer-producer Joseph Reed Hayes, you start to see a pattern of self-imposed challenges built into his work. When the Orlando playwright won a professional development grant from United Arts, the end product wasn’t just a chance to present some hitherto-too-expensive work. The award seeded his first House Theater Project – a play performed in and streamed live from his own domicile – where he “sat and watched people’s faces more than the actors.” The wall between performer and audience had largely melted – with the space between them often just a couple of feet. The game is to look for a hook in ayes’ ongoing works – some are transparent, some less obvious and seen only through inference. This year the transparent game was his ambitious 13in13 series, in which Hayes posed himself the challenge of presenting 13 events in various disciplines.


    Joseph Hayes' House Theater Project to be staged this weekend

    "United Arts of Central Florida makes annual grants to local artists who “strengthen artistic excellence” in Central Florida. In 2012, local playwright (and former OW dining critic) Joseph Hayes received $2,400 for his House Theater Project, a theatrical-technological hybrid that brings live performances from Hayes’ home to the worldwide web – it doesn’t get much more local than the artist’s own couch. Hayes will stage A Little Crazy, his 2002 play about an elderly Jewish man sharing tales of the past with his nephew in the small time he has left before death (a comedy!) in front of the Collabracam, a breakthrough bit of tech that leashes together multiple cameras and an iPad to make a performance available in real time to anyone with an Internet connection. Earlier this year, United Arts said House Theater Project would “expand the definition of live performance”


    Good Fringe Hunting

    "A play by Joseph Reed Hayes is a welcome oasis of cultured smarts at the Fringe, which tends toward the bawdier side of the spectrum. His Solos takes as its topic the development of jazz, as revealed by the decades-spanning story of a trumpeter and his wife, who secretly pens his 'original' compositions. Music fans will have a leg up in discerning how their working relationship reflects the flow of an entire American century; no such foreknowledge, though, is required to appreciate Hayes' smooth hand with dialogue."


    Fringe and Purge

    "Playwright Joseph Reed Hayes captured the essence of the Jewish spirit in A Little Crazy, a beautifully written and acted drama that was among the best of the 28 shows I saw."


    'A Slow Ride' is a warmly comic trip

    "The briskness of Hayes' comedy, A Slow Ride, belies the title — it's certainly not slow going for an audience. And there's both poignancy and joy in the way he has cleverly captured the essence of a family's dynamics in this one ritual they share. Hayes has been working on a project titled "13 in 13" in which he's staging a baker's dozen of arts events during the calendar year. The events range from movie screenings to jazz concerts to original theater. He's entering the theater phase of the project now. Much of the comedy of "A Slow Ride" comes from the personality clashes between Jez, a vibrant ex-hippie with memory issues; Sue, a high-strung worrier; and Rita, a sulky goth. Are they based on real women Hayes has known? "Absolutely not … and every woman I've ever known and their relationships," says the Orlando playwright with a hearty laugh. Hayes has opted for a nontraditional staging. "A Slow Ride" will be presented at the Downtown Credo coffeeshop. The actors will perform at one end of the building, spilling out among the audience. In a sense, the audience will be "on the bus" with the cast. Hayes is no stranger to nontraditional staging: He has previously presented theatrical works in his own living room and broadcast the show live on the Internet. He'll do the same for "A Slow Ride."

  • 13IN13

    Live Active Cultures

    "Summer is usually time to take things slow, but not for multidisciplinary artist Joseph Hayes, Orlando’s self-described “artistic irritant that creates pearls.” His 13in13 Project (13in13.net) set the “crazy” goal of producing an original work every four weeks in 2013, and last weekend he debuted the eighth, A Slow Ride, a 45-minute single-act slice of life featuring three fractured females.""


    Orlando Citybeat Review

    "My first Sunday show was Solos, a touching story about love, truth, God and jazz as religion, accompanied by an incredible jazz ensemble. Blue Miller, a working-class jazz trumpeter meets upper-class Ellie Grace who has a gift for composing scintillating music. Self-conscious Blue struggles with his inability to write the electric compositions that Ellie naturally produces. Shy Ellie battles her own monster, her performance inhibitions and the mid-twentieth century's views on women's roles. Their creative success belies their personal failures. Through their tumultuous relationship, Ellie and Blue realize that they are two parts of a whole, both as performers and lovers. A must-see performance."


    Lake County Repertory Theater

    "It's two o'clock in the morning. A suburban pancake house becomes a refuge for seven quirky customers, all trying to sort out issues in their lives. There's a teenage couple wondering if they're in love, a trio of twenty-somethings trying to decide who's in love with whom, and two elderly men sharing a common dissatisfaction with their grown children. Playwright Joseph Reed Hayes handles these themes deftly, probing their significance without becoming heavy-handed or melodramatic."


13 independent artistic events, written, produced or presented by Joseph Hayes in 2013, with most shows streamed live online; propelled by a successful Kickstarter campaign; creating art with 35 musicians, actors, writers, theater professionals and creative artists; and generating more than $26,000 to local artists, venues and restaurants in the process.
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Analog Artist

House Theater Project:

The excitement of theater, the energy of an intimate, engaged audience, the unique experience of watching a new play from the comfort of your home as it happens.
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freelance writer

As a writer on assignment, I've traveled to Italy, Scotland, England, New Orleans, California and New York City, with a specialty on all things Orlando. Whether it's a story about Arts & Crafts houses in Florida or new styles in computers, a Mounted Police squad or alien abduction insurance, I've written it. Environmental issues, music, movie and theater reviews and in-depth conversations with legends in jazz. Interviews and personality profiles are my specialty.


My plays take place on buses and in bars, in hotel rooms and government offices, farmhouse kitchens and jazz stages. 51 productions and readings of my plays from coast to coast and in three countries since 2001; creator of House Theater Project and the year-long 13in13 series of shows. "Best local playwright: Joseph Hayes" - Orlando Sentinel

food writer

Florida Magazine Association Award winning food writer and Orlando restaurant critic. James Beard Foundation judge, knowledgable champion of world cuisine and avid advocate of undiscovered chefs. I can write about the front of the house of a restaurant as well as the kitchen with equal expertise. Founding member, goFLA/SunshinePlate Central Florida.

jazz producer

Producer of the Jazz On Edge series, spotlighting new and original jazz from Central Florida since 2008, showcasing the best that Central Florida has to offer in jazz to appreciative audiences, giving creative hometown and nationally-known musicians a place to perform their own music, without boundaries, in person and online. Chair of Alternative Programming, Timucua Arts Foundation.