Some think of Christmas as a magical time of year. With all the school pageants, costumes and make-believe, it’s definitely full of theatrics. Two weeks ago, on Christmas Day, the Kennedy Center saw to it that it was a bit of both.
“This was a magical moment,” says Brandon Hayes. “I’m still excited.”
Hayes, 29, is referring to a pivotal juncture in his life: a marriage proposal. What made Jimmy Evans’s proposition somewhat out of the ordinary was the delivery. With about 200 witnesses filling the Kennedy Center’s Theater Lab for a Christmas night performance of Shear Madness, Evans, 44, managed to employ the play to pop the question. And while the very interactive play, which has been running since 1987, has seen a handful of wedding proposals over the years, Kennedy Center officials say this is the first time it was enacted by a same-sex couple.
“Almost every night we have a list that goes to actors of what groups are in the audience so we can harass them in the script,” jokes Nancy Mulliner, company manager for this production since September. Though the particular circumstances were unique, Mulliner says requests like Evans’s are fairly common for Shear Madness, a “whodunit” comedy in which the audience chooses the murderer. For Evans, who reckons he’s seen the show six or seven times, it seemed like a perfect fit. Two of his three daughters from his first marriage, who were in the audience and in on the surprise, agreed. The only thing needed was a little twist from the writers, who added a series of phone calls to the script.
“There are only so many places in the script we can fit people in,” Mulliner explains. “This particular couple didn’t wish to come onstage, so we addressed the issue from the stage. Tony the hairdresser kept getting mysterious phone calls.”
In the end, the writers added three phone calls for Tony to answer, each asking about a particular question. After the third call, the script had Tony turn to Evans and Hayes in audience and say, “Jimmy, I am getting a lot of calls about the answer you are waiting for. Has he said yes?”
From there, Evans was prompted to ask. Though it was not a complete surprise in that Hayes had been fitted for the ring some weeks prior, Hayes was nonetheless floored.
“My birthday was Oct. 4. I kind of thought it would be then,” says Hayes. “But I joked with him, ‘When you do it, don’t be cliché.’ This definitely wasn’t. This was somewhat out of character, but Jimmy does like to go big.”
As for Evans, he had no doubts about getting the answer he wanted. “[Brandon] naturally said yes, but he shook for the rest of the play.” Hayes may have also been a little shaken due to all the applause from the audience. And though Evans cautioned anyone in the audience he feared might be offended by marriage equality with a mention of “no disrespect,” the room was collectively enthusiastic.
Mulliner agrees. “This was a feel-good moment,” he says, “especially because of the city just [legalizing marriage equality].”
All that’s left now for the Hughesville, Md., couple is planning the wedding. Evans laughs that he’ll leave it all up to Hayes.
“I did my part. That’s his job.”