RIDING THE MIDNIGHT EXPRESS With BILLY HAYES, An epic journey of self discovery written an
d performed by Billy Hayes and Directed by Jeffrey Altshuler opened at the Barrow Street Theatre on
October 2, 2014 (39 Years To The Day Of Billy’s Escape). A Q&A With Billy Hayes and the audience follows each performance.
Returning to New York directly from a sold out run at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Billy Hayes recounts the riveting true story of his arrest in Istanbul in 1970 for smuggling hash, his 5 years in prison, his spiritual awakening, and his brazen, harrowing escape, rowing 17 miles across the Sea of Marmara in a raging storm in the dark of night. 39 years later, Hayes remains a mythical figure – a cultural anti-hero known around the world.
Hayes’ story became an instant legend with the publication of his best-selling book, MIDNIGHT EXPRESS, in 1976 and the release of the OSCARÒ winning movie in 1978. Now, Hayes has created a mesmerizing one-man show, detailing his time in prison and his daring escape. He reveals aspects of his experiences never before told, elaborates on many instances portrayed in the film version and he corrects some plot-lines and scenes that were fictionalized for the movie – especially the actual circumstances and incredible drama surrounding his white-knuckle escape. This is truly an epic journey of personal fortitude and spiritual discovery.
Since returning to the US in 1975, Hayes has spoken about his ordeal on television, in classrooms and lecture halls and has even gone back to Turkey. But it was ultimately with the encouragement and support of producer Barbara Ligeti that Hayes was motivated to hone and shape his story into this dynamic 70 minutes of pure storytelling – just a man, a stool, a bottle of water and an unbelievable tale. RIDING THE MIDNIGHT EXPRESS with BILLY HAYES was born in a short run at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2013 and played there again to sold out houses for the month of August 2014. In between Fringe presentations, the show had a highly acclaimed limited Off-Broadway engagement before being presented by the Soho Theater in London in the spring.
The international response has been terrific: Three Weeks, Edinburgh called it: "A remarkable, inherently theatrical tale, which Hayes articulates with great charm, humor and energy…Part memoir, part thriller, part philosophical contemplation of freedom…this absorbing story proves Hayes to be a fascinating character and charismatic storyteller." The New York Times said: "Sensational…Intrinsic power…engrossing." The Edinburgh Evening News described it this way: "It’s life-affirming…the audience hanging on every word…literally on the edge of their seat." FringeReview.com commented: "They don’t make them like that any more." London’s Public Reviews said: "Tangibly cathartic…very powerful…the real story stripped back and told on an empty stage" New York’s BlogCritics summed it up with: "Engrossing, compelling, profound and illuminating theatrical experience that will leave you uplifted and inspired. This is a performance not to be missed."
Billy Hayes was a middle class kid growing up in a suburb on Long Island in the Sixties (yes, those Sixties: Free Love. Political Protests. Sex, Drugs and Rock ‘n Roll) when he went off to college to study journalism. While at Marquette University, Billy realized that the best inspiration for a writer is to experience what he writes about first hand. So he decided to follow the advice of the ultimate guru of the time, Timothy Leary, to "turn on, tune in and drop out".
Billy rode motorcycles across Europe and ran with the bulls in Pamplona. And he made a decision that would change his life in ways he never imagined. He began to smuggle hashish from Turkey, selling it to his friends back in the United States. Until he was arrested at the Istanbul airport in October 1970 with two kilos of the stuff taped to his body. Whoops! Hayes was sentenced by the Turkish court to life in prison, which a sympathetic judge reduced to 30 years. Not exactly the experience he was looking for.
Five years later, in October 1975, Billy Hayes escaped from Imrali Island Prison in a daring effort that began by rowing 17 miles across the Sea of Marmara in a raging storm. On returning home, he finally got his chance to become a writer. In 1976 Hayes’ best-selling book chronicling his time in prison and his escape, Midnight Express, was published and translated into 18 languages. In 1978 it was made into an Oscar-winning motion picture starring Brad Davis as Billy. Billy Hayes became an iconic figure in American culture and his name became etched in media lore.
Since then Hayes has had an extensive career as an actor, director, screenwriter and public speaker and continues to write in a variety of media and formats. In early 2013 Hayes published The Midn
ight Express Letters: From a Turkish Prison 1970-1975. The third book in his trilogy, Midnight Return, which explores his life after prison and the parallel lives of those he left behind, has just been released.
Hayes credits the Yoga he practiced every day while he was incarcerated with getting him through the hard times and keeping him centered. He frequently advocates for prison Yoga programs throughout the country. Hayes met his wife, Wendy West, at the Cannes Film Festival when Midnight Express premiered there in 1978. They have been married since 1980 and live in Los Angeles. For more information, including video clips, go to www.billyhayes.com
Photography: Carol Rosegg
RIDING THE MIDNIGHT EXPRESS With BILLY HAYES
Written By Billy Hayes; Directed by Jeffrey Altshuler
Barrow Street Theatre
27 Barrow Street at 7th Avenue
Tickets are $45 & $65
Performances are Wednesday – Saturday at 7:30pm and Sunday’s at 2pm.
For more information and to purchase tickets, visit Smarttix, call 212.868.4444, or at the Barrow Street Theatre box office.
For more information please visit www.ridingthemidnightexpress.com