Show Your Work: Kelly Lin Hayes Brings Enchantment to Zoom Theater with Her Set Designs

The characters of “She KIlls Monsters.” Courtesy of Kelly Lin Hayes.

In Show Your Work, BIPOC theater-makers provide insight into their favorite creations. Think of it as a guided tour inside the artists’ minds, with the artists themselves as your tour guides. In this series you will see artists deconstructing scenes, elaborating on their designs, sharing acting techniques, and allowing us to see them at their creative best. We get out of their way and they show their work.

What captivated me about Kelly Lin Hayes work was its sincerity. Her characters’ expressive eyes simply disarm you. They wear their hearts on their sleeves; a refreshing trait, and a return to innocence in a world drenched in cynicism. Hayes’ characters convey their creator’s unabashed passion for theater, and to my delight, and the luck of theater-makers working digitally, she happens to be a polymath.

When Zoom plays and readings became ubiquitous, Hayes imagined a world beyond actors’ bookcases and living rooms. She brought back illusion through her custom set designs, which she meticulously creates using her keen eye for detail and knowledge that how the characters move in a space matters regardless of the nature of the stage. Here she talks about her life in the arts and shares some of her favorite designs, and the ideas behind them.

Courtesy of Kelly Lin Hayes.

What were you surprised to learn about your field?

I have two answers to this. Because technically I’m in two different fields. For virtual theater I would say it is so different then set design. It taught me a lot about design, and storytelling, technology and the creativity of multimedia production, which is its strength.

For physical set design, I was surprised to learn the details I have to go into as a designer. We are responsible for all of the design, going down to furniture, tile, all these smaller details. I was surprised how much we have to know about everything. This job is just constant learning. 

How does being a BIPOC theatre maker influence the opportunities you have?

It’s hard to know how it influences the opportunities I get personally because I’ve only done virtual set design professionally. And all of the productions have been with friends. But it’s definitely been very hard to get people to give me the opportunity to talk and to take up space. I have all these ideas but it’s so hard to find professionals to listen to them seriously and consider, especially when all those ideas center BIPOC stories.  

What is one thing you wish people knew more about your craft?

I wish people knew how much of a collaborative art it is. I don’t pretend to know everything but I do love learning about anything. So many people have helped me with set design, and my virtual set design journey and I just have a rolling list of people to thank for every show. 

What was the show that made you want to do theatre?

I have three because my love of musical theatre was segmented.  

The first show that brought me into theatre was Rent and I was obsessed with the show, I still am. But after some bad theatre experiences in high school I realized that while I was in love with theatre, theatre maybe didn’t like me back and I tried to stop liking theatre. But then Hamilton came about in my junior year of college, and I fell in love again. I’ve been here ever since. 

A few years later Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812 showed me a design that was both seemingly impossible and so interesting. So that show specifically is responsible for me changing careers from Architecture to Set Design.

Four Set Designs By Kelly Lin Hayes

She Kills Monsters by Qui Nyuyen

In process. Courtesy of Kelly Lin Hayes.

She Kills Monsters is a vast project. Making use of pixel art, collage, animations, backgrounds, and comics the show pushes beyond the bounds of traditional theatre, and approaches it with a new multimedia experience of theatre. This show won honorable mention in La Mama “Designfest” Competition. 

(See it on November 6th 8PM EST/ Nov. 7th 8PM EST/ Nov.8th 3PM EST tickets are available here)

Marry Me a Little by Stephen Sondheim

In process. Courtesy of Kelly Lin Hayes.

Marry Me a Little is an example of a design that I came up with just for myself. The loose song cycle format, and the story of being lonely with other people was especially relevant to the current time. This was the first example of what I call “tiling” zoom panels that helps put people in scale, and diversifies the set. 

Final version. Courtesy of Kelly Lin Hayes.

The Dumb Waiter by Harold Pinter

In process. Courtesy of Kelly Lin Hayes.

The Dumb Waiter was my first professional show. I worked with my friends Merle, Ona, Rolls and Tony. It was originally meant for a theatre, but when COVID happened we deferred to a virtual show. The “dumb waiter” itself was turned into its own character and I created animations of it being raised and lowered to add an element of surprise into the show. 

Final version. Courtesy of Kelly Lin Hayes.

Night Witches by Rachel Bublitz

In process. Courtesy of Kelly Lin Hayes.

The Night Witches is the latest show I’ve taken on. A lot of the scenes take place in the sky so the “tiling” method mentioned earlier is helpful in portraying the vast skies. The careful ordering and positioning of entrances and exits help to line up the actors in the correct order to tile the scene. 

Final version. Courtesy of Kelly Lin Hayes.

To learn more about Kelly Lin Hayes visit her official website.

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