Michael Hayden’s resume as an actor is impressive.
The Forest Park resident received a Tony Award nomination for his performance in the role of Billy Bigelow in the musical Carousel. He has appeared on Broadway, had roles on TV shows like Law and Order and Chicago Fire, taught acting at the university level and is now appearing in the role of Charles Kean in a play being staged at Chicago Shakespeare Theatre on Navy Pier, titled Red Velvet, by Lolita Chakrabarti.
According to a review of Red Velvet two weeks ago in the Chicago Tribune, the play, set in London in 1833, is based on real events. Ira Aldridge, an African American actor who traveled to England where he hoped to get work he knew he couldn’t get in the U.S., was offered the leading role in Shakespeare’s Othello at the Theatre Royal in Covent Garden. Offering a leading role to a black man at the time was a radical decision.
The Tribune praised Hayden for doing an “excellent” job in his role as Charles Kean, a disgruntled actor who had hoped to get the role himself and in many ways embodied the attitude toward race in England at that time.
“Audiences do not like my character,” said Hayden. “My character is jealous of Aldridge and feels usurped by him. My character believes casting Aldridge in the role is a show stunt and that audiences will not accept him. In the performance he makes a very strong case as to why.”
To those who think that plays based on historical events will be boring, Hayden said this production, which will run through Jan. 21, is funny, sexy and unsettling all at the same time.
And, noted Hayden, it is relevant. Although his character does not base his argument against Aldridge on race per se, “The critics absolutely excoriate him because he’s black. How dare he touch or even kiss a white woman?”
The Tribune review noted that the real life Ira Aldridge was a pioneer and revolutionary as well as a tragic hero. “Aldridge,” the article said, “was a source of wonder and amazement to the British people, most of whom had never seen any actor like him, and he was frequently cited as a justification for abolishing slavery in the years leading up to 1833 [when it was abolished in the British Empire, 29 years before the Emancipation Proclamation in the U.S.].”
Hayden learned his craft as an actor at the highly regarded Juilliard School in New York. The training he received there, he said, was incredibly rigorous, but when he left, he had gotten everything he could have wanted from a training program.
To those who ask how much of a good acting is due to inspiration and how much to perspiration, Hayden reflected on his time as a lecturer at Florida State University, where he taught acting for two years.
“One of the things I would struggle with at Florida State was trying to teach my students a good work ethic. Acting is a craft. To get to the point where you are working on inspiration takes hours and hours of technical practice,” Hayden said.
When asked why he and his wife chose Forest Park as home, he replied, “We knew we didn’t want to move into the city. What we wanted was a residential community with easy transit access to the city. We love the residential streets and the homes, and there’s a downtown with local merchants instead of chain stores.
“There’s a large mix of people here. Besides everyone being so nice, the residents here are down-to-earth and proud to be Forest Parkers. There is a genuine warmth and welcoming friendliness here.”
To find show dates and times go to chicagoshakes.com.