Meet Ash Hernick, the Uber-Talented 2023 Winner of the Gordon Hay Scholarship

Nov 29, 2023 / Blog
By Liz Rothaus Bertrand

When Ash Hernick moved to Charlotte in the fourth grade, life at first seemed constrained. “I was like, ‘The world is ending!’ says Hernick, who came from a small, tight-knit community in rural Connecticut. There, Hernick had been free to wander into the woods or visit nearby cows and chickens at any time.

“Then I moved here and it was so big and so loud,” Hernick says. The family relocated for a teaching opportunity for Hernick’s father at Charlotte Country Day School. In their new city home, the yard seemed small by comparison; there were no sidewalks, and Hernick was no longer allowed to roam freely.

Luckily, Hernick discovered a brand new world waiting for exploration: the theater.

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Stepping on stage and getting involved with productions at school and in the community provided that cozy feeling Hernick had missed and seemed like a new adventure every day.

Since then, Hernick has dived into virtually every aspect of theater-making, from performing to writing to tech and design. And thanks to the Gordon Hay Scholarship, they are getting a boost toward reaching their goal of becoming a stage manager one day.

The scholarship offers a unique opportunity for recipients because it’s not designed to cover typical academic fees like tuition, nor is it for students interested in performing. Instead, it supports students pursuing a non-performing career in the arts with funds for outside experiences and supplies like professional workshops, unpaid internships, technology and books. (In 2024, the Gordon Hay Scholarship will double its award amount for students! More details appear at the end of this story.)

Hernick, who was on full scholarship while attending Charlotte Country Day School, says the award has “opened so many doors.”  Last summer following high school graduation and before starting coursework at Winthrop University (Rock Hill, SC), Hernick got a jump start on professional theater opportunities by registering with the “referral hall” of the local stagehands union (IATSE Local 322). That has given Hernick the chance to work as a crew member for a variety of Charlotte events, including Broadway touring shows like “1776,” “To Kill a Mockingbird,” and “The Book of Mormon.”

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But to do the work safely, Hernick says certain equipment and training is necessary. They are using the Gordon Hay scholarship to purchase items including steel-toed boots, safety glasses and a high quality hammer. They also want to get certified in skill areas such as forklift operation and rigging (i.e., tying different kinds of knots and learning how to safely hang equipment). That will make Hernick more versatile as a crew member and help develop their skills.

Hernick participated in the International Baccalaureate HL (Higher Level)  theater program junior and senior year of high school. With a holistic approach to the artform, lessons went way beyond acting alone. Coursework emphasized everything from dramaturgy to directing, theater history to technical skills and more. It gave Hernick a thorough intro to theater and made them eager to learn more. As part of their experience, Hernick developed an independent study course senior year with Karl Hoffman, Charlotte Country Day’s longtime Technical Director and Theater Manager.

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(Ash Hernick and Charlotte Country Day Technical Director and Theater Manager Karl Hoffman)

But they also looked for opportunities outside of school, such as participating in last fall’s Student Set Designer Workshop, one of several tech-specific sessions created for students participating in the annual Blumey Awards.

“Every opportunity I have to learn I want to take it if I can,” Hernick says, to become “the best version of myself in this job in the future.”

“I’m really glad that I got to grow up in Charlotte,” they add, “… because there's so much opportunity for everyone regardless of where you come from or what your income level is… There are so many community theaters… all of these places where you can go and access theater at a very real level. And the Blumenthal offers so many amazing experiences for teens that are free.”


Hernick got their start as a performer and often participated in productions at school. But Junior year, with college applications approaching, Hernick told Jenny Goodfellow, the director of Upper School Theater Arts, they would only have time to perform in the fall play that year. That’s when Goodfellow asked Hernick if they would also consider helping out backstage for the spring musical.


(Ash Hernick with Jenny Goodfellow, Charlotte Country Day School's Director of Upper School Theater Arts)

Hernick didn’t think they had the qualifications at first. But then realized they had inadvertently picked up experience along the way. In small ensemble productions, for example, “everyone helps assemble sets,” Hernick says. “Everyone helps with props. Everyone helps with costuming.”

They also volunteered frequently to help with outside projects: Hernick had helped manage an a capella group, had run crew and set up mics for an open mic night, and managed rehearsals and performers.

“It was all this stuff that I'd been doing and I guess I just didn’t have a word or a concept to apply to it,” Hernick says.

Each new challenge led to new opportunities, like senior year when Goodfellow asked Hernick to research costume concepts for a play set in the 1920s. It was exciting to see those ideas come to life on stage, Hernick says, and to be treated like a fellow creative collaborating on the project.

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Goodfellow recognized this as an unusual situation, too. In a recommendation letter to the Gordon Hay Scholarship committee, she wrote: “Recently, when discussing our upcoming theatre season, I’ve noticed a shift in my relationship with Ash from teacher-student relationships to a mutual sharing of ideas. This does not happen often with students, but when it does, it is such an honor to witness.”


Hernick also is a gifted writer. They wrote a three act play their senior year and have more projects in the works. They have also won several awards, including: first place in the teen category for a playwriting competition at Matthews Playhouse, recognition in the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards, participated in a Charlotte Mecklenburg Library writing contest, and has been published by Time Out Youth.

“I’ve always been interested in writing,” Hernick says. “ I love it and the more that I got involved with theater at my school… I started writing for the stage.”

For now, it’s a hobby but Hernick may continue to pursue it as a student at Winthrop University.


Hernick is grateful for the magical and accessible experiences community theater gave them and hopes one day to create a theater cooperative to provide additional opportunities for Charlotte artists. They envision it as a place where theater folk could pursue their craft, connect with others and take classes to hone their skills in everything from playwriting and dance to stage lighting and make-up design.

“Something that I think about all the time is I really wish that I saw more original work coming out of our city,” Hernick says. “...We totally have the talent for it, you know. We have the interest. I think that a community theater would be a really beautiful space for that.”

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This $10,000 merit-based award is named in memory of Gordan Hay, an organizational development professional who loved helping employees in his organization achieve their growth and advancement goals. Graduating high school seniors, college freshmen and sophomores from the Charlotte, NC or Knoxville, TN area pursuing a non-performance career in theater are eligible to apply. Funds are to be used for special experiences or expenses related to pursuing careers in fields such as playwriting; theater design; arts administration; production management, and technical direction. Applications are due Monday, February 19, 2024. For full details and application, visit