Local theater mainstay remembered by friends

Co-artistic director of Altoona’s Things Unseen Theatre and actor Jody C. Hesley wasn’t like others who would drop into the Altoona Community Theatre wanting to get involved, ACT’s Operations Manager Steven C. Helsel said Tuesday.

Helsel knew Hesley was a “different animal” when upon his arrival he began talking about how he was doing a lot of reading including playwrights Thornton Wilder and Eugene Ionesco, he said.

“And that was kind of the first time that I’ve ever really had somebody who had that kind of an interest walk through the door,” Helsel said, noting Hesley immediately asked if he was allowed to borrow from the library of scripts at the theater office. He took home several only to return them in two days hungry for more.

Hesley was “always full of ideas on the philosophy of the theater and different studies of the theater. He would talk about Stanislavsky and different methods and things like that,” Helsel said. “He had that true sense of wanting to be an actor, I think, and wanting to really be able to develop a craft that way.”

Sadly, the Hollidaysburg father of three, who started the local theater company in the summer of 2011 with co-artistic director, Valerie Stratton, died Friday at the age of 46.

“He was an intense actor. Everything he did was intense. He lived his whole life with intensity and that was clear in his acting. And I think that his intensity was clear to anyone who met him,” fiancee Haley Hawk of Hollidaysburg said Tuesday. “When he put his mind to something he gave himself a hundred percent.”

Hesley was a “creative brilliant soul” who “did a lot of good things for the art community,” said Hawk.

Hesley played Stanley in Altoona Community Theatre’s 2011 production of “A Streetcar Named Desire.” The production was directed by Russell Stiles, Hollidaysburg Area Senior High School English/ Drama Department Chair.

Stiles said Hesley’s audition was “so powerful it was like Marlon Brando walked into the room and his performance was just amazing. It was inspiring and cutting-edge Tennessee Williams. I really think that physical roles like that he was brilliant at. He really displayed a presence on stage that you couldn’t take your eyes off him. He had that like magnetism and audiences really responded to him.”

Stratton, who was stage manager for the production, was close friends with Hesley.

“He just put everything into [the role],” she said. “Without having had any training he just had this natural raw talent of bringing so much emotion to a role that he just did an excellent job in any of the acting parts that he had.”

Hesley also starred in the 2013 short film “Get Down,” which was produced in New York City and shown at the Pittsburgh International Film Festival.

Among his accomplishments, Hesley, who was accepted into the New York Conservatory of Dramatic Arts, first took the stage in ACT’s 2010 production of “Broadway Bound,” according to his biography on the Things Unseen website. In 2011, came his performance in a “Streetcar Named Desire,” and then a performance in Next Stage Theatre’s production of “Time Flies Like an Arrow, Fruit Flies Like a Banana” in State College.

He also directed, including Things Unseen’s 2012 production of “Nickel and Dimed.”

Stratton and Hesley started the theater company after meeting when they were both cast in “Broadway Bound,” she said.

They discovered shared common interests and began talking “about the need to support the arts in this area,” Stratton said.

Hesley was “the creative force, the energy behind it all,” said Stratton, who plans to continue the company.

Hawk said Hesley, who was also a poet, was “very kind” and had a love for animals.

“He kind of looked at the world in a child-like way. He could see beauty and wonder all around him,” she said through tears. “And I’ll miss him very much.”

Hesley “was just different and unique and wonderful in many ways,” said Stratton, who also spoke through tears at the loss of her friend who she said “had so much to contribute and he’s just gone way too soon.”

Mirror Staff Writer Amanda Gabeletto is at 949-7030.