Stephen R. Hayes, “Stephen R.” to his local friends, was known for his encyclopedic knowledge of theater and his relentless passion that spurred others to take the stage.
Longtime friend Barbara Cochrane said his mark on the local performing arts scene is visible today.
“A lot of people directly related to Stephen R. have gone on to act and direct in other shows and companies," she said. "He taught many people what theater was about.”
Hayes died June 16 of complications from Marfan syndrome at his home in Maryland. The longtime illness, which led to his retirement in 2010 when he left the Fredericksburg area, affects the body’s connective tissue and led to multiple heart surgeries.
A celebration of his life is being held Saturday at 11 a.m. at the John E. Ravekes Theatre in the College Community Center on the Dundalk Community College Campus in Maryland.
His 40-year career was spent predominately at the Riverside Center Dinner Theater, now the Riverside Center for the Performing Arts. Patrick A’Hearn, producing artistic director there, said Hayes worked hard to fill many roles. Along with directing productions, he acted, hosted the dinner theater, worked as house manager and waited tables when called upon.
Friends and coworkers estimate he directed more than 40 productions at Riverside. Robert Nelson, who helped found the center, said Hayes first came on board to direct their first musical “Oklahoma!” in 1998, then the second “1776,” and kept going.
Nelson said he had a large following among audiences who remember him for his humor and friendly attitude. A'Hearn said people still ask about Hayes, who was "a likable, funny, witty constant for patrons."
He also directed children's productions at Riverside, and taught youth theater classes and workshops.
Cooper Shaw, who is studying musical theater at James Madison University, first met Hayes when he was 11 and playing John in "Peter Pan." Along with directing the show, Hayes played the role of Captain Hook.
Shaw called Hayes, "caring and fun to work with.”
Though Shaw's interest in musical theater began earlier, around age 7, he said his time at Riverside in children’s shows and on the main stage made him more serious about a career in the field.
Jim Lawson, an actor and longtime friend of Hayes, said his own daughter recently graduated with a degree in musical theater and Hayes played a big role in "planting that seed."
Hayes himself caught the acting bug early on, which Lawson said is typical of lifelong performers.
Hayes was the son of Gerald and Cecelia Hayes, according to a previously published obituary. Born in New Jersey, he moved with his family to Maryland as a child. Early in his life, Hayes was diagnosed with Marfan syndrome.
Lawson said the condition never stopped him. According to his obituary, Hayes graduated from Dulaney High School in 1977 and went on to study English, theater and anthropology at Towson University. From high school on, he was always involved in the theater. He worked as an usher, waiter, actor, choreographer, stage director and even as a singing gorilla delivering telegrams.
He then worked in Washington-area theaters: West End Dinner Theatre, Spotlighters Theatre, Toby’s Dinner Theatre and Kings Dominion. Hayes was also in the national touring company of "Meet Me in St. Louis."
Lawson met him in the 1980s, when they both worked at the Lazy Susan Dinner Theatre in Lorton. That's also where longtime friend and actor Frank Bennett met Hayes.
All three would go on to work on productions at Riverside as directors, production managers, and actors. Bennett said Hayes had an uncanny ability to see talent in people and cast them.
"For local actors, for everyday folks like me, he gave an opportunity to participate in a very special family of theater folks," he said. "We could shine in theater because of Stephen."
Lawson said his influence extended outside of Riverside and the Fredericksburg area.
"If you've seen a production in the last 35 years in this region—Maryland, Washington, D.C., Virginia— Stephen has very likely had some influence on that production," he said.
He described that influence as being like a spiderweb of people he directed, coached, performed with and taught. But, Lawson said, his favorite musical wasn't one of the big ones, though he directed wonderful versions of hits like "Fiddler on the Roof," "My Fair Lady" and "Annie."
His favorite was “King of Hearts,” the 1978 musical that only ran for 48 performances on Broadway.
Lawson echoed what Cochrane, A'Hearn, Bennett and Nelson all said: His encyclopedic knowledge of theater was incredible.
"Who knew that there was a show called 'King of Hearts' that ran for a few weeks in the 70s? Stephen knew," Lawson said.
They put it on, and Lawson said that while he was worried a small-name play wouldn't bring in a big crowd, Hayes was enamored with the beauty of the writing. The play is about a soldier near the end of World War I who is sent to a small town nearly deserted except for the patients of the local insane asylum.
"These patients don't live in the same violent reality, and have assumed different identities," Lawson said. "But the main character loved them for who they thought they were."
He said he could see why Hayes would be drawn to such a play, with his love of performing and his great capacity to care for other people.
"That's theater," Lawson said. "I'm Jim Lawson, but onstage I'm Tevya. I'm all of the characters in all of those plays. Reality aside, when Stephen took on a character, that's who he was."
Captain Hook, Mr. MacAfee, Professor Henry Higgins, Uncle Max, Fagin, Lumiere—Hayes was all of those characters and more to his adoring audience in Fredericksburg.