Longtime Oak Glen theater teacher honored

NEW MANCHESTER – Like most high school teachers, Kelsey Hayward can do without the drama of high school students. Unless they’re in one of his theater classes. Then the more drama, the better.

“Come on. Get your voices up, kids,” he told a group of theater students during a class earlier this week.

Hayward, 63, of New Cumberland has been helping Oak Glen High School students realize their dramatic potential for 42 years. He’s watched as musicals have grown in popularity, while dramas have fallen out of favor. Now, as he contemplates retirement, Hayward can be excused if he enjoys some applause – directed not at his students but at him.

Hayward recently received the 2013 Lifetime Achievement Award from the West Virginia Thespian Festival “for dedicating countless hours to foster young minds with artistic works that have set the precedent of what theater is and what theater can be.”

The award also commends Hayward for being a mentor and an inspiration to theater students, some of whom presented him with the plaque at the opening ceremonies of this year’s West Virginia Thespian Festival.

“I had no clue. It was a pleasant surprise,” he said.

Recognition from his peers is satisfying, but Hayward acknowledges that, in the language of the theater, his career’s denouement is probably at hand.

“I’m pretty sure this is it,” he said in a recent interview. “I still love it, and if I could hold onto just doing theater (classes), I could probably handle it.”

In addition to theater, Hayward also teaches psychology, advanced placement psychology, advanced placement history and English.

A lifelong resident of Hancock County, Hayward grew up in Chester and graduated from Oak Glen High School in 1967 as part of the first class to graduate from the new high school. Hayward acted in high school and college plays but got into teaching theater by accident.

While student-teaching in Wayne County, Hayward got a call from then-Oak Glen Principal E. Russell Slack offering him a job teaching, among other things, theater and auto mechanics. “The principal called me in and said, ‘How about you direct the first play of the year?'” he said.

Although he felt unprepared – there was no theater teacher certification in West Virginia at the time – Hayward tackled the task with aplomb. It was the 1971-72 school year, and he chose the play “It’s Great to be Crazy.”

“It turned out to be a great success,” he said. “Had I known it was going to be such a success, I would have picked a better-known play.”

Since then, the theater program at Oak Glen has presented about four plays a year under Hayward’s direction. “We used to do two musicals a year – one comedy and one drama,” he said. “We used to have really great crowds.” Some of his favorites include “Annie,” “Fiddler on the Roof” and “George M!”

In the 1980s, Oak Glen presented “Little Shop of Horrors” using a rented plant for the character of Audrey II, a plant that feeds on blood. Hayward later bought a plant from West Liberty University, and a new production of “Little Shop of Horrors” is scheduled for early June.

Over the years, Hayward has directed and acted in community theater productions. One of his favorite roles was that of Sheridan Whiteside in “The Man Who Came to Dinner,” performed at Towngate Theatre in Wheeling.

“I love to act, but when you direct, the time for acting is limited,” he said.

Hayward also is proud of his role in the renovation of the Oak Glen Little Theater, which received new Broadway-style seating, curtains and lighting about six years ago. He credits past Principal Tom Salvati, among others, for giving him “free rein” as theater teacher.

“The board of education and all the superintendents have been very supportive of our program over the years,” he said.