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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."  – Matt Palm, Orlando Sentinel
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. [A Little Crazy] 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) – Sheila Martindale, Monday Magazine, Victoria BC

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.” – Matt Palm, Orlando Sentinel

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." – Jim Abbott, Orlando Sentinel

"[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. 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.) – Matt Gorney, Orlando Weekly

"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. 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." – Matt Palm, Orlando Sentinel

"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.

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.
UA Insider (page 20-21)
Orlando Sentinel
Orlando Weekly

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. 43 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.