SAN FRANCISCO: The Lorraine Hansberry Theatre has announced that Bay Area actor, director, playwright, and educator Margo Hall will be the company’s new artistic director, effective Sept. 16. Hall, who has been working in Bay Area theatres for over 30 years, will become the company’s first female artistic director.
“I am thrilled to have Margo join me in leading the Lorraine Hansberry Theatre,” said executive director Stephanie Shoffner in a statement. “She is the perfect fit for this role, continuing the legacy and hard work of the leaders that came before her. She is an indelible force of nature in the Bay Area theatre community and outspoken advocate for artists of color. Margo is also a talented actress and director, whose incredible intellect and ability to inhabit complex characters influences her aptitude for bringing thrilling new works to life. Together we look forward to ushering in a new chapter for the Lorraine Hansberry Theatre, one focused on nurturing and promoting exciting new Black theatre makers in the spirit of our namesake.”
Alongside the appointment of Hall, the theatre has announced the Lorraine Hansberry Theatre Fund for New Black Voices, which dedicates resources to supporting rising Black playwrights, directors, choreographers, actors, and theatremakers. In a recent interview with Hall, it became abundantly clear that this fund is a natural project for a company run by Hall to pursue, as her life and career has been dedicated to lifting up the stories and voices of her community. It wasn’t until recently that opportunity and her passion finally lined up.
“I began to think about the work I had been doing over the last several years of my career, working with predominantly white institutions,” Hall said of the decision to join the Lorraine Hansberry, “helping them to create equity and diversity within their institution—sort of being a liaison between my Black community and the other institutions. I felt like I was giving all of my energy in a place where, unfortunately, I wasn’t seeing a lot come back. And I thought, where do I really want to put my energy now? And that was in the Black community.
“We’re talking about artists losing everything—no work, no theatres—and the first thing I thought about was Black theatre. Out of all the institutions, we’re going to be the ones to fall due to lack of funding, due to lack of support. And I thought, how can I help Lorraine Hansberry Theatre? I wasn’t even thinking about becoming the artistic director. I just went to Stephanie Shoffner and said, ‘What can I do to help?’”
This conversation came almost a decade after Lorraine Hansberry Theatre co-founders Quentin Easter and Stanley E. Williams both died in 2010; their hospitalization had led to the theatre closing for the remainder of its 2009-10 season. Included in that was the postponement of Lynn Nottage’s Fabulation, or the Re-Education of Undine, which had been scheduled to feature Hall. (The production would later open in 2011.) At that time, Hall said, she had been approached about the possibility of being an artistic director. But being in the midst of her career, she said she wasn’t ready yet.
Hall’s career includes working as an actor and director throughout the Bay Area, including at California Shakespeare Theater, American Conservatory Theater, Berkeley Repertory Theatre, Marin Theatre Company, TheatreWorks Silicon Valley, Aurora Theatre Company, San Francisco Playhouse, and Shotgun Players. Hall is also a founding member of the multicultural theatre company Campo Santo. Additionally, Hall has taught and mentored future generations through American Conservatory Theater’s MFA Program, University of California Berkeley, University of San Francisco’s Performing Arts and Social Justice degree program, and Chabot Community College. In 2018, Hall received the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle Jerry Friedman Award, celebrating her contributions to the creativity and grown of area theatre during her career.
After decades of finding ways to contribute to and uplift her Bay Area community, and amid a pandemic and nationwide resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement, Hall said she has found new clarity in her life. It was this national uproar, she said, that made Hall realize that she wanted—and to feel truly fulfilled, needed—to be in support of the Black community.
“I thought I can, at least for this community, build an incubator for young female and non-binary Black artists so that they feel nurtured, safe, and secure,” Hall explained. “We can build a community of artists and have a place for them to come. And not just to have their work produced. You can put a lot of plays up on a stage, but what are you going to do for that artist, for their career, for their soul? That’s the kind of space I want. Taking on this position affords me the opportunity to create a space where I can really focus on the artists and producing work that will celebrate the Black artists of the Bay and throughout our community. Having the opportunity to nurture, guide, and present new artists to the world is where I need to be right now.”
As Hall looks toward the future with her company, she said she hopes to see more young, Black female or non-binary playwrights come out of the theatre’s incubator and go on to see work produced throughout the country. Additionally, Hall wants to increase awareness of Lorraine Hansberry herself and find a permanent home for the company, which currently performs at the Buriel Clay Theater at the African American Art and Culture Complex.
Perhaps most importantly, Hall wants the Lorraine Hansberry Theatre to be a truly community-based organization, creating the opportunity for Black theatre to thrive in the Bay Area, all while living up to its legendary namesake.
“There’s nothing like being in a play with an all-Black cast, with a Black production team, in a space where I feel safe and nurtured,” Hall said. “I’ve had very few instances of that happening for me. I know what it feels like to have it. It’s important for us all, in order for our art to thrive, to know what that is.”
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