Power tools, stacks of wood and old set pieces are just a few of the things scattered around the scene shop located on the ground floor of the Modlin Center for the Arts, a place very dear to Phil Hayes’ heart.
Hayes, who serves as assistant technical director and shop foreman, said he had known he wanted to work for the University of Richmond’s theatre and dance department when he had first laid eyes on what he refers to as “one of the best scene shops around."
The scene shop is where all of the scenery for UR plays is constructed. Hayes is responsible for taking the ideas given to him by designers in the theatre department and bringing them to life on stage.
While working full time as the assistant technical director for UR's theatre and dance department, Hayes also takes a few days off every year to work as the technical director for the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival (KCACTF).
In early February during his seventh year at KCACTF, Hayes was honored with the 2019 Kennedy Center Medallion.
"The Kennedy Center Medallion is considered to be one of the greatest honors in theatre education and is presented to only eight individuals annually," reads a University of Richmond press release. "Award winners are recognized for their extraordinary contributions to theatre education and production and for demonstrating a strong commitment to excellence in educational theater."
Hayes had not expected to receive the award.
“I was surprised,” Hayes said. “The award is usually given to someone who is leaving or higher up. To be honored by my peers was shocking and I really appreciated it.”
The KCACTF regional chair nominates candidates and then those nominees are voted on by the committee, Hayes said. He was unaware that he had been nominated for the award, he said.
“I found out that the vote was unanimous that I receive the award and that made it more special,” Hayes said.
Hayes has worked at the University of Richmond since 1998, according to the press release. He started working full-time in the theatre and dance department in 2004, gaining the titles of assistant technical director and shop foreman. He often works after hours to make sure that everything is ready before performance time.
“Phil is very dedicated to the job,” said Bailey Daigle, senior and master carpenter. “He wants to make sure students are productive in class and having fun at the same time.”
Senior Megan Wirtz has worked with Hayes for seven semesters. She first met Hayes at a session for All Call, a program that invites students from all majors to come and help build the set for UR performances.
“He is an unsung hero,” Wirtz said. “He is always behind the scenes, so it’s good to see him get the credit.”
Wirtz never really used power tools before working in the scene shop, she said. She now helps as a scene shop assistant, often working with Hayes’ Stagecraft class.
“I found out that Phil won the award on Facebook,” Wirtz said. “I was very excited and proud because he definitely deserves it.”
UR faculty members also raved about Hayes’ dedication to the theatre department and to his students in the scene shop.
Associate professor of theatre Walter Schoen, who has worked with Hayes for 17 years, said the Kennedy Center Medallion was long overdue. He described Hayes as someone who cared for his work with both the KACTF and the UR theatre department.
“The department works very hard to make sure that things are as right as we are capable of making them so that we make the experience for both students and our audiences,” Schoen said. “Phil’s real star is the work he does behind the scenes, and that’s where he actually shines the best because he is so committed to doing the best he can to make it right.”
Schoen has worked with Hayes on every production that Schoen has done at UR. He said Hayes was a very caring guy.
“Phil is incredibly accommodating to when you have a special request or if you have something that needs to be changed,” Schoen said. “Phil often works above and beyond what’s expected of him to make it right and I think that it’s a comment on Phil and it’s also a comment on the department.”
Costume designer Johann Stegmeir has seen the dedication Hayes has to his students and scene shop. He has known Hayes to work long hours to make sure that all the work is complete before show time.
“Phil’s good at the problem solving,” Stegmeir said. “He’s also good at walking the students through these processes, so we’re very lucky to have him here and I’m not surprised he was honored for his thoroughness and dedication.”
Stegmeir has worked with Hayes on two scenery plays. He said Hayes was very hands-on and wanted to make sure that his students had the best experience while working with the theatre department.
“From the very second we start building and working on sets, lights and costumes, students are integrated into every bit of that process and that is the educational experience of doing the show,” Stegmeir said. “But what he has in his shop and the way that he runs his shop, freshmen or sophomores will show up and then they’ll stay with them until they graduate.”
Contact features writer Kyla Coleman at firstname.lastname@example.org.