Mr. Hayes was hooked after performing in a seventh-grade production. “I forget the joke, but I said it and the whole place laughed and it was definitely like, ‘Ah, that’s the good stuff!’” In college, he directed John Krasinski in a musical spoof of action movies — “like ‘Die Hard’ the musical, basically,” he said.
“‘Pick me, look at me’ is the dominant cultural ethos,” Mr. Hayes continued, adding that theater kids’ joining the professional world is “like releasing an apex predator into an ecosystem.”
Mr. Hayes drew a direct line from his younger theater endeavors to his current work. An obvious line, perhaps, but he isn’t the only one. Many former theater kids describe a pipeline from the extracurricular activity to certain professions: journalism, public radio, law, public relations, politics.
Gov. Phil Murphy of New Jersey credits his time in theater — as King Arthur in a Needham, Mass., production of “Camelot” and as a member of the Hasty Pudding Club at Harvard — with giving him some of the skills he needs to do his job. “I still get butterflies occasionally, but it’s rare that I have anxiety about standing up and speaking in front of people,” he said.
Theater gave him a certain amount of equanimity, he said: “When a piece of scenery would fall to the ground or somebody in the audience would get sick or somebody onstage would forget their lines, I learned long ago to go with the flow, as they say.” Another useful political skill: He learned how to tap dance, for “No, No, Nanette.”
(Mr. Murphy also recounted seeing three productions of “Hello, Dolly!,” one with Carol Channing, another with Ethel Merman and the third with Bette Midler. “Hard to argue with Channing, but they were all good,” he said.)