Allison Hays has only held Theatre Harrisburg’s executive director job for a few months, yet it seems she’s been preparing for this position all her life.
Her journey from her hometown of Columbus, Ohio, to Harrisburg—with a stop or two along the way—has focused on the arts: its performance, its management, its future. She’s ready, for sure.
But, first, a bit of background.
For Hays, it only took one person to stoke the creative flames—her kindergarten teacher—who saw something in her, something special, and cast her as Suzy Snowflake, a leading role in a holiday play. In Hays’ words, she took to it like a “fish to water.” It helped that the artistic seeds were already being planted at home within a household of musical theater lovers, who began to notice their daughter’s passion for the stage.
“I have vivid summer memories of my mother working in the garage while I danced around in circles to ‘Phantom of the Opera’ or ‘Cats,’” she recalled. “I don’t think I know a time where I wasn’t singing, dancing or acting.”
In third grade, Hays got to see “The Nutcracker” and she proclaimed to her mother, “I wanna do THAT!”
Her parents enrolled her in a dance academy, drove her to theater auditions, and allowed her to join the Columbus Children’s Choir, where she learned solid musical skills. Theater became a part of her identity, and, while she hasn’t always had the good fortune to be employed in the arts, she has always found a way to actively participate through small productions or community theater.
And that’s where Theatre Harrisburg comes into “play.” Since 2010, Hays has performed in leading roles in shows such as “Camelot,” “Crazy for You” and “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” among others. She’s also choreographed, as well as been in the audience, when friends performed or cheered on those who were new to the Theatre Harrisburg family. While Hays has been involved in other projects at other venues, it’s there that she feels most at home.
“I have met so many wonderful people, and I have never ever felt like I didn’t belong,” Hays said. “I cannot express how fantastic it is to have beautiful set and lighting designs, be wearing a costume built just for you, and get to sing along with a professional pit orchestra. An amateur doesn’t often get that kind of experience.”
Hays also brings arts management know-how to her new executive director title. She has previously held positions at WITF, Harrisburg Symphony Orchestra and the Pennsylvania Regional Ballet. She recently managed an off-Broadway play and has served as a manager for a long-running musical called “The Days of ’98 Show With Soapy Smith” up in the wilds of Skagway, Alaska, where she’s run the daily operations—from directing to box office coordination.
“It’s a hoot,” she said. “Can-can dancing, ragtime piano, vaudeville humor. I’ve met several people from the Harrisburg area. It’s so fun to meet all the way up in the northland.”
While Hays loved Alaska’s extended daylights and starlit skies, she admits that Harrisburg has other advantages, such as its museums, a fabulous symphony and great dance companies, not to mention its proximity to larger cities like Philadelphia, Baltimore, New York and Washington, D.C. She’s more than ready to continue to put Theatre Harrisburg’s stamp on the midstate, much to the delight of the board of directors who recognized Hays’ passion for the theater‘s mission.
“She possesses a diverse skill set which matches our needs and demonstrates the ability to work with people from different backgrounds and points of view,” said Solomon Krevsky, Theatre Harrisburg board president. “Allison has deep roots in the central Pennsylvania performing arts and business communities. We are thrilled to have her.”
And the feeling is shared. She was excited and nervous when Krevsky called with the offer, but “chewed it over in my mind” and then thought, “Let’s go!”
Theatre Harrisburg’s upcoming season (and Hays’ first as executive director) will include the musicals “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” and “Hairspray” at Whitaker Center. The Krevsky Center on Hurlock Street will present “Rumors,” “Grave Doubts,” “God of Carnage” and a recent off-Broadway musical, “I Love You Because.”
“I have also added a holiday performance featuring young performers only,” Hays said. “Hopefully, it will also feature student directors, costume design, etc. Young people in our area are passionate about doing shows. I want to open up our opportunities to include them as a part of our community.”
Along with expanding youth programming at Theatre Harrisburg, Hays hopes to actively work towards building a community of volunteers and audience members along with balancing both classic and contemporary shows.
“All of my separate experiences now seem to be related when I look at how useful they are to this new position,” Hays mused. “I feel poised and ready to make a difference.”
For more information about Theatre Harrisburg, including its 2017-18 season, visit www.theatreharrisburg.com.
Author:Lori M. Myers