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Remembering Chuck Hayes
On July 6, 2023, one of Radford University’s most esteemed and loved professors, Charles (Chuck) Hayes, departed the earthly stage, having left an indelible mark on the university, the Department of Theatre and Cinema, and most importantly, his students.
Chuck Hayes was hired in the summer of 1967 to help guide the brand-new department, then known as The Department of Dramatic Arts and Speech. When he first arrived on campus, Hayes was tasked with developing a new curriculum (with John C. Irvine) and cultivating library holdings in the field of theatre for a department that did not even have a physical home yet. (Porterfield Hall would not be ready until the 1971-72 season).
That was just the beginning of his impact.
As the stories below attest, Chuck Hayes was a thoughtful problem solver dedicated to cultivating a thriving major. He helped shape the program with a unique blend of serious professionalism, creativity and good humor. Hayes had other professional opportunities, but he invested his life in the theatre program at Radford University, positively influencing students for four decades.
What follows are remembrances of Chuck Hayes from students, colleagues and friends. More than any resume or list of accomplishments, these stories tell you who he was.
From Mark Curran (’82)
I was privileged to have directed Chuck Hayes in two productions while I was a student at Radford University. He played Colonel J. C. Kincaid in The Oldest Living Graduate in 1981, and Dr. Martin Dysart in Equus the following year. No professor had ever performed in a student-directed production before that. I had a faculty member from another department suggest that it was wrong for me to cast Chuck in those roles as it denied opportunities to students. What they didn't know was how much his presence elevated every other actor's performance. Seeing his work ethic and how he approached character development was like attending a master level class for everyone.
From Julia Thudium
Chuck Hayes helped shape some important choices I made in my life.
He introduced me to Bill Irwin most specifically. He had a love of physical comedy and I ended up taking it to the next level. To note, I left Radford middle of my junior year because as happens with impetuous youth, I felt like I needed to be in a conservatory training program where I could concentrate exclusively on acting. There were many tear-filled meetings with Chuck as I came to this decision and he ultimately encouraged me to go.
During my senior year at The Theatre School at DePaul, Steve Smith who ran the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Clown College did a workshop and all I could think about was sitting in class with Chuck as he shared Bill Irwin with us. (Bill Irwin was a CC grad himself.) I auditioned for Clown College the next day and ended up being given a contract as a clown for a two-year stint riding the rails with Ringling.
He was very kind to me, and I still credit him as one of the reasons I never gave up my connection to the theatre, first as an actor and now as a director, including starting my own company - Mother Road Theatre.
From Brandon Corbett (’02)
My favorite story about Chuck was when my roommate showed up to an audition just a couple minutes late and was sent home. "Early is on time" is a mantra I've always held since.
He also gave great advice for acting and life in general. This came from his Acting 101 class but it was applicable to life: always make a choice. Even if it's the wrong choice, it's always better than doing nothing and just standing there. He also gave us a rule about never putting your hands in your pockets onstage. "Nothing happens when you just stand there with your hands in your pocket. Do something."
Chuck Hayes wasn't just my academic advisor; he was my mentor. We didn't always agree, but he was respectful and kind - and most importantly, put up with my college self a lot more than anyone should have. He encouraged me to follow my own path, especially in playwriting, theatre history and literature. While I didn't pursue a career in theatre for more than a few years after graduating, I still used his teachings throughout my life.
From Tammy Scruggs-Duncan
The more potential he saw in you, the tougher he was on you. But the kind of tough that made you eager to learn, and made you a better actor than you ever thought you could be. The kind of tough that endeared him to all of us and set the bar for the rest of your lives. There's no other person who taught me more. The respect and affection this man inspired spans decades.
From GeGe Beall (‘82/’90)
We did The King and I in 1978 with Dick Harshberger as the King and Tammy Scruggs as the female lead, Anna. Dr. Hawes was directing. This was a show with a "cast of thousands" including lots of kids (the Harshberger kids, Dr. Hawes' daughter, Chuck's son, plus others we rounded up). We needed an unbelievable number of costumes and Anna had numerous costume changes. We didn't have a costumer on staff at the time, so a grad student from the design department took this on as her master's thesis but she got way, way, WAY behind.
We opened on Parent's Weekend in the fall. I had several minor roles, but I didn't have a costume for a featured dance scene. In fact, we had a matinee opening and several of us didn't have costumes. We were in the dressing rooms trying to get ready but had nothing to put on. Chuck (remember, this wasn't his show), popped in and addressed us all. He said, "I know many of you don't have costumes yet. We're going to have a full house and I know you've heard this several times but this time we're going to live it: 'the show must go on.’ We must do the best we can. I want you to go through this pile of old costumes and create your own. Rip them, tie them, safety pin them and don't worry what you do to them. Just create something you think will work for today." And we did just that! Some got quite creative. I will never forget how he stepped in, in a clutch moment, and helped us improvise a solution to something that wasn't officially his problem.
In 1979, I was cast in the three-person show called Vanities. Each act looked at a different time in the life of three friends: Act 1 - high school, Act II - college, and Act III - several years after college. In Act III, the now adult women reconnect after years apart. The play called for us to drink champagne during the reunion and the script gave explicit stage directions for when another glass was to be poured or gulped. My character was particularly anxious about this reunion which caused her to drink a lot.
In order to get the empty champagne bottle to use for performances, Chuck brought a real bottle of champagne to our rehearsal and had us drink it as the script dictated while rehearsing Act III. (At that time, beer and wine were legal at 18). His goal for us was to get the feel for what the characters would be experiencing in real life.
Well, those characters were pouring it back at an amazing clip, mine especially. It wasn't long before we three were giggling and going up on lines. I remember once he hollered at us to focus and we just laughed. And while it was only one bottle, we drank it so quickly that we got to the point we couldn't continue rehearsal. It was a great exercise and gave me insight into how my character would be behaving after that much champagne. I will never forget it.
From Mike Biby (’95)
Chuck Hayes is someone that will forever have a lasting impression on me. Not only was he a great professor who taught me many things about acting and directing, he was a friend and mentor that had a big impact on me personally.
In a time when “kids” are finding themselves and learning not only their craft but also how to be an adult and good person for the first time on their own, Chuck was a great person to look to. I took things from all of my theatre professors at that time, but Chuck taught me things that transcended theater and impacted my daily life.
To this day, one thing Chuck taught me still directs my life. “To be early is to be on time. To be on time is to be late. To be late is inexcusable.” I live this every day. I have passed this on to my kids. I have taught my students this. I have used this with my employees. Chuck’s legacy and impact is further reaching than most realize. It spans generations and to people he never even personally knew. He will be greatly missed.
Rest in peace Chuck. You will forever be in our hearts.
From Tony Westbrook
Although I wasn't a theater major, I spent much of my time in the theater department and performed in several shows in the black box and on the main stage. I was primarily a singer, but Chuck taught me much about acting and I was grateful for all of the parts and the experiences that I had.
When we were getting ready to graduate, Chuck said he thought I might make a good agent. I had been told that before. Fast forward several years. I was working for a literary agent and we were trying to sell scripts and looking for action adventure type vehicles. Chuck said he had written a script and asked if I would take a look at it, which I gratefully did. It was very good and we actually took it on and tried to get it made. Unfortunately, in that business, it's all about connections and it didn’t happen. One of my regrets is not being able to get that made but I was grateful for the opportunity to at least try.
Chuck also played in The Oldest Living Graduate and I had a bit part as Cadet Turnball. In the short scenes that we had together I felt like I was interacting with my own father, who was in the Air Force.
Teachers do have an impact on us, and Chuck did indeed have an impact on me which lasts to this very day. He enriched and nurtured many lives, and he leaves a legacy behind! I salute you Chuck and thank you for all the opportunities you gave me!
From Dick Harshberger
In 1980, Chuck cast me a W. O. Gant in Look Homeward Angel. We were approaching opening night of a three weekend run, when my brother phoned me from my hometown saying: “About Mom and Dad’s 50th wedding anniversary… it’s all coming together … we have the venue, have secured a caterer, a band, and photographer … Mom and Dad are so excited that we three boys, and the entire family will be there to celebrate their big anniversary!”
I was horrified! I had been operating on two different levels. The fact that their anniversary was coming the second weekend of our three-week run overwhelmed me. What was I to do? I couldn’t let the cast down and couldn’t let my parents down either. I was heartsick - stuck between a rock and hard place.
I went to Chuck. Chuck never even blinked. “You must be there for your parents.” He went on to say, “I played the part of W O Gant years ago. I’ll brush up on the lines and I’ll play the part the second weekend. With a few extra rehearsals, I should be fine. You go to your parents 50th. Family comes first."
That was Chuck - a tough, demanding director: a kind, compassionate man. I never forgot.
From Carl Lefko
As a director, Chuck was always very supportive of the design team. I had a great deal of freedom as a designer and was allowed to really tap into my creative spirit. Chuck gave me his directorial concept of "blue” for the production of Shakespeare's The Tempest. The play takes place in an imaginary land developed from the tales sailors brought back from their explorations. I tried to create an enchanting environment from a place never envisioned by the audience.
Chuck always required his Acting I students to wear tights for class. My technical students often complained about this requirement. I reminded the tech students that the acting students also complained about having to draft lighting plots and floor plans and that their academic success depending on their ability to successfully overcome these challenges just like it was for the acting students.