"Theatre gives sense to the complicatedness of our day to day existence," producer Carole Shorenstein Hays says. "What could be better than a great performance that resonates?"
Hays should know — she has been presenting some of those superb performances on Broadway for three decades. Her Broadway producing and co-producing credits include four Pulitzer Prize winners: the original production of August Wilson's Fences, Proof, Topdog/Underdog and Doubt, as well as Edward Albee's Tony-winning The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia?
She has won five Tony Awards as a producer. This past Broadway season she co-presented Martin McDonagh's A Behanding in Spokane and the revival of Fences, starring Denzel Washington and Viola Davis, at the Cort Theatre.
Hays is also the president of SHN, which runs three San Francisco theatres, the Curran, Orpheum and Golden Gate, offering new works, pre-Broadway productions and Broadway hits.
She was born and raised in San Francisco, where her father, Walter H. Shorenstein (who died on June 24 at age 95), was becoming a major national real estate figure. "I grew up loving theatre. It was that simple — from the album cover of My Fair Lady to singing every single part in my bedroom. I realized at a very young age that I had no talent, which didn't stop me from performing in front of the mirror. I loved going to theatre with my parents. We always looked forward to it. We went to the Curran Theatre, which I now own. When I actually saw My Fair Lady I was dazzled that there was more to it than just the songs." She says that she learned a great deal from her father — "how to see the landscape. And he was very good friends with George Steinbrenner," the owner of the New York Yankees, "and George Steinbrenner was very good friends with Jimmy Nederlander" of the Nederlander Organization, a major theatre owner, "and we all just started talking and I became partners with the Nederlanders at a very, very young age."
When it comes to theatre, she says, "I learned everything from Jimmy Nederlander. He is masterful. There’s no better theatre person."
The first Broadway production in which she was involved was the Jerry Herman musical The Grand Tour, in 1979. The first show with Hays as sole producer was the original 1987 production of Fences. "I read the play and I thought, gosh, I can identify with this. I know that people have spoken about it as having the specificity of a particular culture. But I never saw it that way. I saw that that was my father, that was me — it was an American play." (Indeed, she has called it a "universal play," declaring that "families are all alike.")
Looking at this past season's revival, which is co-produced by Scott Rudin and directed by Kenny Leon, she says that 23 years later, it's still "fresh, vibrant, alive, pulsating. I hear August's words as if I didn't get them before. I was just busy working on things then, and now I can stand back, maybe like a grandparent, and say, 'This is wonderful.'"
Is there something she would like to produce that she hasn't so far? "What I really love is nurturing promising writers, as August was back then. When we first did Fences, he was known as a 'promising' playwright. I really enjoy that process. What I look forward to in the time that I have left here on this earth is to bring up the next generation, to say, 'Open up the gates of Broadway, of America, to robust American writers.'"