8th May 2021
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Jeff Hall: Theatre Teacher and Director – Theatre People

By Mitch Stark

Another good morning Theatre People! Today I’m honored to introduce you to Jeff Hall. Jeff has been teaching in Oregon for 30 years and is a leader and true mover and shaker in the world of theatrical arts. I met Jeff years ago at an Educational Theatre Association national event and it’s always a delight catching up—hearing what new exciting things he’s up to. I hope you enjoy my interview with Jeff as much as I did. Another week closer to fully open stages, people—keep your chins up!

Jeff Hall, theatre teacher, director and EdTA leader in Portland, Oregon.

What’s a show that inspires you? (explain away!)

This is a tougher question than I thought it would be! As I think about it, I’m realizing that where I really get my inspiration has way more to do with the process of theatre than any one show itself. And…you know…I’m old so there are way too many shows to parse through in the thirty-plus years I’ve been teaching and directing, not to mention the ones where I was lucky enough just to be sitting in the audience. So I think my answer is that the show that inspires me most is the one I’m watching or working on now…no matter what that show might be. (And right now, that’s PUFFS, a show I chose out of a sheer desire to do something goofy and fun, but that is revealing itself to be a delightfully heartwarming story of identity and connection.)

What’s one of your happiest moments in theatre?

I am happiest in the theatre when something unexpected happens. I love being surprised, and theatre—still, thankfully—has the ability to do that. A standout example was when I was watching the Deaf West production of BIG RIVER, directed by Jeff Calhoun. I was thoroughly enjoying the innovative approach to this show that I knew very well. But when the climactic reprise of “Waiting for the Light to Shine” built to its expected crescendo, the physicality of the performers (both hearing and deaf) continued at full throttle, while the sound cut to a (and I don’t use this term lightly) deafening silence. I gasped. I was awe-struck. I was giddy. And I was in tears. I don’t know of many places outside a theatre where that happens.

What’s the biggest ‘fail’ or goof you’ve seen on stage? (do tell the story)

Well I was at a production of PIRATES OF PENZANCE, once, where the house lights dimmed for the start of Act Two and the curtain came up and the Major General’s daughters all entered…but I could see from where I was sitting that the orchestra pit was still empty. Somebody had forgotten to call the orchestra to places. That created a lot of sigh-filled improvisation on the part of the daughters since, you know, it’s an operetta. The pianist crept in and rescued them, while the other musicians joined one by one.

A more personal moment—incident, maybe, more than a goof—was when I was on stage in a production of PERICLES playing the role of the Prince’s trusted advisor, Helicanus. My character is asked to recount the entire show’s story (and, if you know it, it’s…complex) to Pericles, but only gets as far as “Sir, I will recount it to you …” before he’s interrupted. What I didn’t know on this particular night was that the actress playing Marina—whose interruption I was counting on—had been watching a previous fight scene through the vom doors and was clocked by the door when some of the combatants exited with force. She was out. Leaving me on stage for what seemed like an eternity to contemplate somehow holding an audience’s attention with an improvised recount of what they’d just seen, in iambic pentameter. Fortunately, I only had time for some clumsy backtracking before she emerged, dazed, but able to take everyone’s attention away from me.

And there was that production of ARSENIC AND OLD LACE when the window seat’s lid came down a little quick for the “dead” body that had just been placed inside, causing a very audible cry from the actor playing the corpse.

I guess there are a lot of these, when you’ve doing this for awhile ….

Why do you love theatre?

Theatre is one of the only artforms you can’t do by yourself. It’s a team sport, almost by definition. And, when it’s done well, it’s nearly always about someone else…focused on an other. Our mantra around our program here is “Theatre is service…and not self-service.” It’s service to an audience, to fellow players, to a community. And, ultimately, it’s service to a story. A shared story. What’s not to love about that?

Theatre is for…

STORYTELLERS

This is really just another way of saying theatre is for everyone, I know, but the most satisfying part of my work is getting to experience that moment when someone comes face to face with the fact that we are all storytellers. When they realize that they have a story to tell or a part to play. A voice to add. Something to contribute. We all have stories, and each of our stories begins with the word “and” as we continue to build on those whose tales were told before us. From the playwright, to the entire cast and crew, including that first-time technician sitting in the light booth, leaning into their headset, with their finger poised nervously over that go button: We are all storytellers. Theatre gives us the chance to acknowledge, share, and celebrate that.

Jeff Hall

More about Jeff Hall

Jeff Hall is in his 30th year teaching and directing theatre at Jesuit High School in Portland, Oregon. A graduate of Northwestern University, his career began as a teaching artist and performing arts manager, conducting and coordinating hundreds of educational residencies annually, in communities throughout the United States and Canada. Founding Director of The Young People’s Theatre Project, he served for 8 years as Director of Oregon’s Chapter of the Educational Theatre Association, is currently on the Advisory Board for the Educational Theatre Foundation, and works as a Creative Consultant for a range of projects nationally. He and his wife Koleen have successfully raised two theatrical storytellers, with a daughter teaching theatre at the Katherine Thomas School in Maryland, and a son working for Netflix Animation as a scenic carpenter.

Published in collaboration with TheatreAve
Also by Mitch Stark:

Josh Belk: Teacher and Director – Theatre People

J. Jason Daunter: Stage Manager and Educator – Theatre People

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