DELAVAN — Joan and Steve Hay might have never fallen in love if it weren’t for “My Fair Lady.”
The elderly couple have appeared in numerous plays throughout the area, including recent productions of “The Gin Game” in Lake Geneva and East Troy.
Married for over 35 years, the Hays remain active and creative even when they are not acting or singing on stage.
Joan may be sewing face masks to donate to area medical centers, libraries and anyone who passes by the sidewalk kiosk in front of their Delavan home.
Steve might be making any number of items. He has built everything from beds to tables, and on a couple occasions, even written his own plays.
It was their love of theater that caused the two to meet in the early 1980s.
They both appeared at an audition for “My Fair Lady,” the hit Broadway musical about a Cockney girl who takes speech lessons from a professor in London. Elkhorn’s Lakeland Players put on the production in 1983.
Joan — a singer with a three-octave range — said it was her first audition in 16 years. “I was really blown away when I got it,” she said.
The Milwaukee native moved to the area in 1976, after she met her first husband and had two children.
Joan took her first job at what was then Lakeland Hospital, today known as Aurora Lakeland Medical Center, in the town of Geneva.
By the time of the “My Fair Lady” audition, she was going through a divorce while working as a nurse and raising her young children.
Steve was already divorced when he met Joan at the audition.
Originally from Racine, Steve’s family moved to Lake Geneva when he was in high school. He didn’t get the acting bug until he was in college.
Steve said he was drawn to Joan the first moment he saw her.
“I would say I’m the one who pursued her,” said Steve, “and through many clever acting techniques, I managed to fool her into believing that she should marry me.”
Joan laughed as they sat on the screened porch behind their home, which she bought around the time “My Fair Lady” opened in 1983.
“He was funny,” said Joan, of her husband. “I’ve always said, ‘Keep me laughing and I’m with you.’”
The couple shares more than laughs.
They have appeared on stage together in numerous productions, including “On Golden Pond,” “Cemetery Club” and “Moon Over Buffalo.” In the latter, they portrayed characters who also had the last name Hay.
Steve’s favorite play to perform with his wife is “The Gin Game.” He said it is a fascinating mixture of humor and tragedy, even though it is just two people talking.
In the play, two nursing home residents discover they both like playing gin rummy, and they both hate the nursing home.
The Hays performed “The Gin Game” for the Geneva Theatre Actors Guild in Lake Geneva, and the Off The Square Players in East Troy.
They have also collaborated on Steve’s own plays, including one he wrote about a real-life story involving a tugboat that could not dump its barges filled with garbage off the East Coast.
Joan said it takes a lot to commit to any type of community theater production.
“It’s two months of your life,” she said. “You just have to know that you’re going to give that up.”
But she enjoys looking at the world through the perspective of a character, which is unique to explore and try to make real.
“When you’re really into a character, I mean, you are just right in the now, in the moment,” said Steve.
Reminiscing on their porch, which contains a spotlight from a past theatrical production they were in, the Hays discussed how they know they performed well during a play.
Steve said they never want to hear the question, “How did you learn all those lines?”
If someone spent time counting their lines, that means they didn’t pay attention to the character, he said.
But Joan thinks it might actually be a compliment. People might be more impressed that they can still remember all those lines, she said.
“Memorizing is harder now,” admitted Steve, “but it’s good for your brain, too.”
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