A family affair
Hester created After Zoey in 2015, but was first inspired by his sister-in-law, Martha (Vickers ’88) Heady many years earlier.
She is a musician, and “I fell in love with her music,” Hester said. “I was inspired by both her spirit and the way she just refused to be beaten down, finding hope and goodness in both people and life.”
Martha suffered from chronic illnesses, but Hester said her strength to overcome hardships made the perfect foundation for a musical. Though After Zoey is not a biographical account of their lives, Hester included elements of their journey in the story about a 16-year-old girl who battles a critical illness. In the play, the lead character, Zoey, deals with her mother, sister and a stream of boyfriends who climb in her window as she discovers love and friendship.
“This story is not Martha’s life,” Hester said. “Yet, I’ve heard so many stories that the essence of those many stories have found their way into the musical. I’m wanting in some way for this musical to honor her.”
Hester served as chair of the theatre department from 1991- 2015. After stepping into a teaching and administrative role, Hester found more time for personal work such as writing the musical. As he developed the story, he used lyrics penned 10 years before by his own children.
“All of these songs had been in my head, and somehow it all seemed to fit together,” he said.
Hester’s son, Conrad (’05), wrote poems while studying at ACU, and his daughter, Jenavene (Hester ’09) Bazacas, transformed those poems into songs while in high school at Abilene High. They had the presented the songs at a graduation concert. The songs are gaining new life as part of After Zoey.
By combining the songs written by his children and his sister-in-law, Hester turned his story idea into a family project. Internal grants from ACU propelled the musical to New York City for a workshop in which the music and story were reshaped with help from New York producers and other professionals. Through connections to Hester’s son-in-law, Juilliard graduate Joseph Mohan joined the team as orchestrator and music director. By the end of summer 2015, the story, music and lyrics were complete.
Directed by Hester, produced by ACU Theatre and performed by ACU Theatre alums, After Zoey will premiere in Fulks Theatre. A dinner theatre option is available Aug. 20. Tickets may be purchased here.
Hester has continued to pursue new opportunities in theatre. In June 2016, theatre alumni, Ally Beans (’14) connected Hester to the Dallas Firehouse Theatre. The theatre asked Hester to direct a summer play, The Fantasticks.
Hester brought current students Michael Stafford and Jonathan Steffins to the cast. The show expanded Hester’s creativity beyond ACU and gave him experience to use in the classroom.
“It helps me to be reminded of what it’s like to do what students are asked to do,” he said.
Hester said continuing to build his personal repertoire in both acting and directing helps him talk more authentically to his students and gives them more confidence in his teaching. He proved stepping back from his position as chair of the department was not an ending, but the beginning of a creative legacy theatre-goers will enjoy for years to come.