Aimée Hayes vividly remembers the first time she stepped on a stage.
“I was 8 years old and I was playing the role of the evil stepmother in Cinderella,” says the native New Orleanian. “I remember getting my first big laugh from the audience. It was at that moment I just knew – this was the thing I was meant to do.”
While still in high school, Hayes branched out into directing.
“I love the storytelling aspect of theatre and I guess, as a director I thought I could have control in a broader way,” she says. “I could create that visual landscape. I could sculpt an entire world and how it sounded, looked and felt.”
Since 2008, Hayes has been sculpting other worlds in her role as the producing artistic director for Southern Rep – New Orleans’ only year-round professional theatre. Hayes is responsible for choosing the season’s performances and overseeing production, along with the Rep’s extensive arts and education program.
More than 10,000 people come to see one of the four to six plays offered at Southern Rep each year. Hayes says she’s particularly proud that typically at least one play each season is from a local play write.
“Some of those plays go on to be performed all over the country,” she adds.
During the upcoming 2014-’15 season, Southern Rep will take its local focus to the limit with an entire season of plays by or about New Orleanians.
“We’re presenting this new play called Boudin: The New Orleans Music Project, where we’ll start by asking everyday people the question, ‘How has New Orleans music saved my soul?’” Hayes says. “These personal stories will then be performed along with local music. It’s going to be a rocking, funky, fabulous evening at the theatre.”
While she says she can’t imagine doing anything other than her current position, Hayes says that, like most in her industry people, finding success in the theatre was a long road.
She is particularly proud of the Rep’s YO NOLA (Youth Onstage New Orleans) program. This free after-school program runs in partnership with Success Preparatory Academy, a charter school in the Tremé-Lafitte neighborhood.
After graduating from Loyola University with a bachelor’s degree in English, she eventually moved to New York for a time before returning to finish a master’s of fine arts in directing from Tulane University.
Within those years, like many theatre people, Hayes held down a lot of odd jobs to support her creative goals.
“I had a lot of suit jobs in marketing and fundraising and sales and such for years,” Hayes says. “I’d work during the day and go direct at night.”
Throughout those years, Hayes never lost focus. Her reward has been securing a job she loves in a city that loves live theatre.
New Orleanians love a good story,” she says. “We love to tell them through our music and our visual arts, and of course what could be more exciting then seeing them brought to life on a stage.”
mentor: (The late) Buzz Podewell, head of the directing program at Tulane University. He really taught me how to trust myself and to always have a sense of humor about what we do.
defining moment: I guess it has to be the decision to leave New York and come home. That was in January of 2005, not long before Katrina. I wanted to spend time with my family and finish my master’s degree, but I wound up finding myself more connected to my field here than I ever was in New York.
advice for young women: Wow, I could fill a book with that. I’ve given a lot of speeches to young women about different things, but I think what I’d say is really important right now is the idea of economic equality between men and women. It’s definitely something we all have to work toward. I guess what I’m saying is, don’t be afraid to ask for more.
goals: I’d have to say that right now, everything is how I’d want it to be.
favorite thing about what I do: I have so much fun. It’s so amazing getting to collaborate with a group of artists. I can’t imagine anything I’d rather do.