Liberty University’s Scott M. Hayes Talks URTA Training and the Terminal Degree


Liberty University’s Scott M. Hayes Talks URTA Training and the Terminal Degree

Scott M. Hayes, an URTA alum of the Asolo Conservatory at Florida State, and current Interim Dean of Liberty University’s School of Visual and Performing Arts, spoke about his graduate theatre training, professional journey, and offers advice for those interested in performing, teaching, and more.

You’re a multi-faceted artist–a playwright, director, producer, and actor. What are the origins of your passion to work as a theatre artist?

My parents are both teachers and musicians, and both are very curious people. They taught my sisters and me that the arts were important and to embrace creative processes. The only reason I’ve done a lot of different things is that they presented themselves to me as new facets of those processes.

Tell us about the Asolo Conservatory and some of your biggest learning experiences from graduate the school.

I went to graduate school right out of undergraduate. In undergrad, I first attended a strong music theatre program (UC Irvine) then transferred to the second year of a great conservatory-based BFA program (UC Santa Barbara). I was fortunate to get a lot of performance opportunities and to work with incredible professors and classmates. It became very clear to me that those of my classmates that were chomping at the bit to leave school seemed to have qualities I believed I lacked. Some were being courted by companies, studios, and casting professionals – so obvious was the combination of their talent and beauty. Others were so comfortable and proficient with their way of working. UCSB had very strong movement and voice faculty, plus a solid classical approach, and my fellow students were very capable in their processes. I was consistently cast as precisely what I was; a teenaged, redheaded American. My classmates were so much more flexible than I was. Perhaps because I transferred into the middle of a training program, I felt I didn’t have the tools to work professionally.

Almost all of my teachers had attended MFA programs, several connected to URTA, so I was encouraged to pursue graduate school auditions. I signed up for the URTAs as well as individual auditions for every other prestigious program that was recommended to me. I knew almost nothing about my graduate school before attending. I thought I had a lock on a very well-known program, and when it fell though, the appeal of FSU/Asolo’s offer – compensation, AEA connections, accreditation, and distance from my home state of California, drew me to Sarasota.

As soon as I attended my first acting class I realized I had been unknowingly guided to exactly what I needed. FSU/Asolo had a foundational Meisner approach, which was then expanded by deep opportunities with two companies focusing on a classical repertoire, and the whole experience was diversified by the presence of a film school on site. From two very different and wonderful teachers, Jim Wise and Brant Pope (who later went respectively to Penn State and University of Texas at Austin) I learned a process, a way of working that has affected every opportunity I have had since. I became a much more flexible actor, earned my AEA points, my SAG card, and the compensation helped me graduate debt-free. I also met my wife. Suffice it to say that my URTA graduate school was a great thing.

What was your journey from MFA student to Interim Dean at Liberty University?

I had a tough showcase experience. All my classmates had much more interest than I did. My wife and I moved to New York right after we were married. FSU/Asolo asked me back for a show in their new theatre, and then Theatreworks/USA offered me my first AEA gig. The showcase worked out after all! Touring was great and hard – my first year of marriage was spent apart more than together. Theatreworks/USA asked me to take on another tour, and my wife was cast as well. When we found out we would be on opposite tours, we took another job where we could be together.

FSU/Asolo was renegotiating the relationship between the company and the MFA program, and we were asked to be part of a repertory program for the MFA productions. During that time, Brant Pope was teaching a single course at a neighboring university, and I tagged along on my free days. In the middle of a term, Brant had an unexpected conflict and since I had an MFA, a university administrator asked me if I could take over the course.

Remember, I was raised by two teachers. I had no desire to teach, and I certainly did not go to my MFA program thinking I would use this terminal degree to become a teacher. During graduate school that perspective seemed to solidify, since I held my teachers in such high regard that I couldn’t imagine myself doing their work. However, when I starting teaching the course, something fundamentally changed in me. Not only did my perspective on teaching change, but my ability to communicate a process seemed to effectively coalesce. Brant was a strong encourager, and opportunities began to fall into my lap. I accepted a last-minute hire to replace a faculty member in Ohio University’s BFA program, and then FSU/Asolo created an acting/movement teaching track, and I was hired. I worked there for four years, working directly with my former teachers. I started directing and writing then. I also acted as needed for the Asolo Repertory Theatre, and acted with various professional theatres during the summers.

My faith is very important to me. While I was teaching at FSU/Asolo, I started to be approached to do some directing and writing for churches. I resisted, since most faith-based work I had seen had such low production standards I didn’t want to be associated with it. I finally relented, and was given several opportunities to write, direct, and produce some influential work in the faith-based community, including adapting a highly regarded novel.

I accepted a position to run a small BA program in Ohio, where I also ran a professional summer theatre company. I really found myself enjoying the ins and outs of producing – fundraising, donor cultivation, etc. – plus the minutiae of academic administration. Seven years later I moved to Regent University in Virginia, where I was able to teach again on a graduate level, this time at a faith-based institution. I was assigned some curricular development and management duties that were not related to theatre activities, and found that this work was surprisingly aligned with creativity and my producer’s brain. I stayed there five years before I was recruited to do the same kind of work as the associate dean for Liberty University’s School of Communication and Creative Arts. I’m now the interim dean for the school, where I get to oversee about 2000 students and faculty associated with four departments, each with a professional arm: Cinematic Arts, Digital Media and Communication Arts, Studio and Digital Arts, and Theatre Arts. I still teach and direct, and I still have my agent who sends me on various regional opportunities.

What advice do you have for someone who really wants to teach and is therefore seeking a terminal MFA degree?

Don’t. I’m kidding – a little. As I said, I obtained my MFA for the training, not for the opportunity to teach. Of course, as a college professor and administrator with an MFA, I’d be a massive hypocrite if I discouraged people with an MFA from teaching. That stated, I think there is a basic misunderstanding about what a terminal degree provides. Simply possessing an MFA (or a Ph.D.) merely checks off a box for a job application. All academic terminal degrees carry the expectation that you will continue to build upon the work introduced in the course work for that degree. When I’m looking at a CV, I take that MFA seriously but I want to know what the candidate has done prior to and following obtaining that degree. Are they working professionally? Are they creating their own work? In short, are they maintaining the creative and academic curiosity that is expected of a university professor? I find that a lot of folks interested in teaching don’t understand that the time you spend in the classroom is relatively small. There is the expectation for continued creative and/or scholarly work. All of this amounts to one major thought: If you are interested in teaching as one more avenue for meaningful creative activity related to theatre, you are more likely to be successful than the person who wants to teach for stability.

As an educator, what skills do you think an undergraduate student can work on, outside of their acting course work, that can help them have a successful career as a theatre artist?

Say “yes” to opportunities of all kinds, particularly those in theatre, and put others first. When I was in undergraduate school, particularly because I had a lot of acting opportunities, I was under the delusion (of my own making) that there were certain aspects of theatre that were beneath the serious actor. In grad school, since my program was exclusively graduate without any teaching opportunities, we had non-teaching assistantships and lots of understudy work. The best examples I saw were those who approached their non-acting or non-teaching work with the same gusto as their acting opportunities. That sure rubbed off on me. The same people were also characterized by their interest in each other, rather than a self-focus. Best simple advice for a young actor – be interested, not interesting. And as I reflect on those who were examples of saying “yes” and putting others first – every one of those persons are still professionally active, 23 years after graduation.

Hayes has written five plays and has won the Best Short Drama award in the Christians in Theatre Arts national competition. He is also a professional producer, director and combat choreographer with more than 100 productions to his credit, and continues to serve as artistic director for the Parable Theatre Company. Mr. Hayes recently celebrated his eighteenth year of teaching, during which he has worked at six universities in the United States and England. In addition to being Dean of the School of Visual & Performing Arts, Mr. Hayes is an associate professor for the Department of Theatre Arts, where he directs and teaches acting courses. Scott and his wife, Sarah, are the proud parents of three daughters, Emma, Abigail, and Eliza.

Posted by Rachel Friedman  Posted on 18 Apr 
  • acting, arts administration, Asolo, Asolo Conservatory, graduate school, Liberty University, mfa, Regent University, The URTAs, Theatre, theatre arts, UC Irvine, university theatre, urta
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