With music and drama, playwright Joseph Hayes debuts 'Destination Moon'– Matt Palm, Orlando Sentinel
"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.” Emilie Scheetz and Chan Sterling play the unlikely pair. Scheetz recently lit up the stage in Mad Cow as college-age Alison in Mad Cow Theatre’s “Fun Home.” Sterling does a lot of hosting and emceeing work. Both have found connections with their characters. Scheetz is headed off to New York City in a few weeks to begin college at Manhattan School of Music. Like Truly, she is figuring out how to “enter the real world independently,” she says. Sterling relates to Doc’s obsession with jazz trivia. He’s not a jazz buff himself — “I’m more a ‘60s singer-songwriter kind of guy,” he says — but has a passion for movie minutiae.
“There’s a lot of junk in here” — he points to his head, laughing — “that no one cares about, but I care about.” Hayes says theatergoers will forge connections with these two souls over the course of the 75-minute play. “The idea is to make the audience think about people other than themselves, to make them feel like they’re overhearing a private conversation,” he says of his play that defies neat pigeonholing. “It’s a comic, tragic nonmusical musical,” Hayes says of “Destination Moon.” “It’s the way people are. It’s real life.”
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.– Jim Abbott, Orlando Sentinel
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. At press time, the project had received pledges for roughly half of that amount. Anyone interested in donating can visit 13in13.net for a link to the Kickstarter page.
If the fundraising push is successful, Hayes envisions a schedule that includes a mixture of free and ticketed productions. Proceeds from ticketed shows will go toward funding projects in 2014. Tickets are on sale (at gathr.us/screening/718) for the project's inaugural event, a screening of the musical documentary "Big Easy Express," which follows alt-country darlings Mumford & Sons, Old Crow Medicine Show and other musicians on a train from San Francisco to New Orleans. The film will be shown Feb. 5 at the Cobb Plaza 12 in downtown Orlando. It's appropriate that the film will be the first taste of "13 in 13," because it was among the main motivations for Hayes to undertake the project.
"I was depressed with the progress of the elections," Hayes says. "Everybody was so down on almost everything, but here's these kids, 120 people on this train, playing their music. They played their shows, then they get on the train and play some more. It was so heartening and enthusiastic. There are positive things out there. People that care about art and doing things for the world." Hayes plans to pay the creative people involved in the shows, a cast that will include 19 musicians, 11 actors, eight directors and theater technicians, four writers, a chef, and a sound-effects person.
"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." Hayes already has built a reputation for indie-minded events. His Jazz On Edge concert series, for instance, is celebrating its fifth anniversary in 2013 as an established forum for highly evolved jazz. His House Theater Project has streamed intimate theatrical productions online to a worldwide audience. Other "13 in 13" highlights include a master class in composition and improvisation by trumpeter Brian Groder and pianist Tonino Miano on April 4 at the University of Central Florida. The duo will premiere their new "FluiDENSITY" CD on April 7 at the Timucua White House in Orlando.
"[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."– R.T. Robeson, Freeline Media
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.– Matt Gorney, Orlando Weekly
The game is to look for a hook in Hayes’ 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. Though Hayes is known for his interest in jazz – witness his Jazz on Edge series – in his two-actor play Solos, tackling the issue of class and the role of women as creatives throughout jazz history is the less-obvious engine.
“I’ve always seen this sort of corollary between theater and jazz, as possibly the only two art forms where improvisation is so crucial to what happens that every show you see is going to be different, merely by the nature of those human interactions,” the playwright says, explaining that signature hook in action.
When asked how much gender and class matters were on his mind while writing Solos, Hayes succinctly confirms, “100 percent.” Those twin issues of representation (or lack thereof) drive the play forward in single-decade leaps, act to act to act, creating a history of jazz’s many forms out of the story of two people.
“When you look at the character of Blue Miller, there is a common thread between the styles of music and what he goes through. So he starts out rather light and swingy, and he’s much deeper during the bebop period, and has those same sort of aggressions and doubts and chaotic nature when we turn free,” Hayes says. “[And] if you’re not versed in the music … it doesn’t matter, because it’s a play.”
In Solos, Michael Sapp plays jazz trumpeter Blue Miller, whose love life is overtly stoked by Ellie Grace (Desiree Perez) after meeting her on New Year’s Eve of 1939; he’s playing in the hotel her father owns. As Miller finds fame, Ellie’s covert skill as his ghosting songwriter drives the three-act drama via the direction of Paul Castaneda. As a romantic meet-cute, Solos might ring familiar with a contemporary audience, but looking at the history of jazz music, you can start to follow the real rhythm. Despite Hayes’ statement above, knowing your jazz history could also help you follow the overarching narrative between Ellie and Blue.
On the issue of class, jazz music has a sordid past. It’s a lingering problem, if you look at how our institutions present and compensate one of the few uniquely American art forms – especially as compared to European concert music, e.g., symphonic orchestras playing music written by dead white men. Early on, jazz was a pneumatic, metronomic device, literally driving the tempo of business in New Orleans’ Storyville district whorehouses. The Ellie Grace character in Solos is from a family with no dealings in that sort of business, leaving her to sublimate her considerable songwriting talents through her trumpet-playing partner.
Yet another reason Ellie can’t make it without Blue: The history of gender in jazz hasn’t been its proudest moment, either. Ladies singing out front has been acceptable throughout, but the mythos of women as creators has dragged doggedly behind for well over 50 years, short-sheeting the likes of composers and players Mary Lou Williams and Melba Liston. Solos addresses and drives a traditional theater piece with this premise. (Want some confirmation of the playwright’s assertions? Wynton Marsalis, though an unimpeachably fine musician, has become our Will Rogers of jazz history: Look up the internet chatter on his 25-year-old Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra having never given a female instrumentalist a seat in the band.)
"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."– Orlando Weekly
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.– Matt Palm, Orlando Sentinel
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." The performance on Sunday, July 21, will be streamed live at housetheaterproject.com.
"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."– Orlando Weekly
"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. Jezebel (Jac LeDoux) is an overly emotive ex-hippie grandma whose obsession with numerology and Woodstock-era reminiscences about Grace Slick and Allen Ginsberg may be signs of incipient Alzheimer’s. Also along for the ride are Sue (Wendy Starkand), Jezebel’s exhausted daughter, who feels like a pre-menopausal tarnished penny; and 17-year-old gloomy goth granddaughter Rita (Kate Lockwood), given to dropping pop-culture references (Nine Inch Nails, cyberpunk) that predate her birth. Hayes’ script steers more toward long, introspective monologues than dramatic action, but his dialogue – which the cast delivered with alacrity – is crisp and quick-witted. Director Sylvia Vicchiullo cleverly utilized College Park’s Downtown Credo coffeehouse, creating audience interaction from before the curtain, and the ensemble did an admirable job making their archetypal roles into relatable characters. The too-soon ending made me wish for a longer journey with these women."– Orlando Weekly
"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”; a decade ago, our theater critic Steve Schneider called A Little Crazy “beautifully written.” To further heighten the contrast between local and global, live audience members will be seated right on the set, and three of the four shows will include refreshments – one show will be catered by Big Wheel’s Tony Adams, one by Sweet! cupcake mogul Hollis Wilder and one by the playwright himself. Go to housetheaterproject.com to make on-set reservations or tune in to livestream performances."– Jessica Bryce Young, Orlando Weekly
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.