Theater Info for the Washington DC region

Spotlight on Leta Hall

By • Apr 1st, 2009 • Category: Interviews
Rehearsal for Murder
Providence Players
James Lee Community Center, Falls Church, VA
$15/$12 Seniors and Students
Playing through April 4th

Listen to the interview with Leta Hall. [MP3 15:16 14MB]

Mike: Hi, this is Mike Clark with Show Biz Radio. Tonight I am talking with Leta Hall who has the role of Monica Welles in the Providence Players’ production of Rehearsal For Murder. Thank you for talking with me tonight.

Leta: Thank you for asking me.

Mike: So who is Monica Welles?

Leta: Monica Welles is a Hollywood actress. She has made a few movies and now she would like to try the legit theater. When I was thinking about the character I was kind of thinking about some of the other actresses I know who have done that kind of thing and I came up with people like Jane Curtain.

Mike: And do you like Monica Welles?

Leta Hall as Monica WellesLeta: Yes, actually I do. It is a big thing to decide that my life is going into a direction that I am not too pleased with. I think I am going to regroup and start all over. That is a big choice to make and not a lot of people do it.

Mike: Is that a decision you’d think you’d ever have to make or need to make?

Leta: I don’t think so. I have been given opportunities, but one of the things I have noticed about my life is that I tend to just find myself involved in things and I like it and I stay. I was raised in Maryland. I still live there.

Mike: I still live in Virginia. Amazing how that works.

So how did you get started in acting? You are very well known in the community theater area so how di you get started?

Leta: Actually, I am pretty much the stereotype. I did high school theater and enjoyed it very much. Then I went on to live the rest of my life. I was having lunch one day with a friend of mine, John Condray and he said, “I’m in a play you should come see it.” I went to go see it and I was sitting in the audience and I thought, “That looks like fun. I could do that.” And I started out auditioning. I did some Gilbert and Sullivan with the Victorian Lyric Opera Company which I enjoyed very much. But I am a better actor than I am a singer so I moved over to plays, and enjoy that even more.

Mike: Did you ever have any training or is it on the job in high school and community?

Leta: There was a program run by Montgomery County when I was in high school called Street 70. It was run by Montgomery County through the Round House Theatre. So I could say, “Well I’ve been trained by Round House Theater.” But I was trained by Montgomery County. I did that program for two years. The rest of it has been learn as I go.

Mike: Do you have a part that you are really proud of, that is like your dream part that you have done or that you would like to do?

Leta: Like a lot of people, I always say that my favorite role is the one I am working on currently. I always tell people that theater is my favorite team sport. I like the group activity aspect of theater. But there have been some parts that are sort of my, “Ooo, I would like to do that.” I think everyone has seen The Lion in Winter eight or nine times, but I woulds still love to play Eleanor when I am age appropriate. There are some roles I would have loved to have played, but my ingénue days are behind me.

Mike: ow do you get into a part? How do you become whoever you are playing? This is more a technique question, but everyone has had different responses to that so far.

Leta: You start with the entire play. Before I audition, I read it a couple of times and I look at what the author says about the play. It is one of the things I noticed a long time ago is that George S. Kaufman will give you tons of information about each character. My absolute favorite description is one of his. He describes Beverly Carlton in The Man Who Came to Dinner as “very British, very elegant, very Beverly Carlton.” Neil Simon tells you nothing. Just the character’s name. He does not even give you an age range or anything like that.

So I read the play a couple of times. I look to see what the author says about the character and I look at what the character says. With every line of dialogue you kind of have to ask yourself if they are telling the truth. If they are not and if they don’t. If they are not telling the truth why? You look at what other characters say about them. So you kind of shape it based that way.

Mike: How does that work together with what the director might shape you about a part? Have you had situations where it has been opposite of what you thought?

Leta: Probably. None come to mind at the moment. It is a collaboration. You work with the director. In the best shows the director has a strong vision and the actors all work together to make that happen. I do not remember anyone saying, “Wow, you have totally misimagined this. Let’s go back to the drawing board.”

Mike: Let’s talk about WATCH.

Leta: OK.

Mike: You are very active in WATCH. You are always seen up front at the awards, all that fun stuff. Don’t tell us anything you are not allowed to tell us. Internal politics or whatever. So what is WATCH? Some people that read this or hear this may not know what WATCH is.

Leta: WATCH is the Washington Area Theatre Community Honors. The name was chosen to fit the acronym, I think. We are in our tenth year now. I like to call WATCH peer Review Community theater. The idea is that it is an awards program. The awards are voted on by the judges in each company. There are thirty member companies. Each company provides four judges. Those judges see approximately ten shows each year. The 122 shows that will be performed this year will be judged by ten judges apiece.

My official title is Audication Coordinator. My unofficial title is Vice Principal or nag or anything like that. My main job is to track that the judges get to their assignments and turn in their ballots. I send reminder emails once a week that pretty much boil down to: Have you made your reservation yet? Where is your ballot? Want to do that now? At the end of the year all that information is tabulated. Everyone assumes that I do a lot of work for WATCH. I do a medium amount of work for WATCH and I enjoy it very very much. Our tabulator Margaret Benning does a huge amount of work. She enters every ballot into the spreadsheet that we use. She types every score. If you are judging a show that has a cast of 65 and you are thinking, “Oh jeez, I have to score 65 people.” Margaret will be transcribing 65 scores.

Mike: Ten times.

Leta: Ten times. Exactly. I estimated one year when we had about 106 shows that Margaret was entering well over 35,000 individual scores over the course of the year. She processes those pretty darn fast. I got your ballot, you know, I put all the information in. You get those within 48 hours.

Mike: So WATCH pretty much is the awards only. Does WATCH do anything else?

Leta: The basic mission of WATCH is to raise the awareness of community theater in this area. I think it has been very effective in doing that. The award ceremony is covered by Show Biz Radio, The Washington Post. Other news outlets have been there each year. And it certainly never hurts when someone can put in their bio “WATCH nomination. WATCH award.” Our general goal is to raise the awareness in community theater. People occasionally ask if WATCH can do another project: Do we want to set up scholarships, do we want to do this and the answer is always that our focus is fairly narrow and right now we are very comfortable keeping it that way. We do one thing, we try to do it well.

Mike: Since there are so many groups that are not part of WATCH, for whatever reason, in the immediate DC region. Part of that is they do not do enough shows or they have not been in existence long enough to be a member. What would happen if ten years from now there were twice as many members? Sixty member companies.

Leta: I actually like that idea. But then I am a big tent person. I always think there is room for more. I do not know. It is entirely possible that if the organization grew too large and bulky that it became Maryland area WATCH and Virginia area WATCH, but I do not see that happening for any great period of time. There are companies that are eligible to join and simply do not choose to for one reason or another. I think that will always be the case.

Mike: And you are a WATCH Award winner.

Leta: No, I am not. I am a WATCH nominee.

Mike: But, didn’t you win?

Leta: No.

Mike: Oh, I apologize…

Leta: No problem. The year that I was nominated (and people always remember this. Not about me specifically, but about their own nominations). The year that I was nominated, Molly Hicks won for playing Catherine the Maid in Boston Marriage. I was nominated along with Cassie Lee and Rick Kenny when we were in Taking Leave at the Vienna Theatre Company. The show was nominated for seven awards overall, including best play. It was an excellent production to be a part of and I was grateful to get to do it. Lorraine Magee was our director and she is outstanding.

MIKE: So if you are in a play that has been recognized by WATCH like that, at the time you are not really thinking awards. You are just thinking about getting through this. Staying focused and whatever. So months later the award nominations come out what is that like. “Oh yeah, I did that show way back when.”

Leta: Well, in my case we did Taking Leave in November. The show had only been down about two months when the nominations were announced. But, yes, you do a show in January and the following January, “Oh, I got nominated for that. Oh great. Wonderful.” I have not had that experience yet, maybe one day I will.

Mike: Here is a question I have for you. I don’t know how to phrase it so we may need to rephrase it a few times. This is back to your WATCH hat and I know you are not speaking for WATCH or anything.

Leta: No, I do not speak for the organization. I offer my own opinions of which I have multitudes.

Mike: So your opinion about community theater. Community theater in a lot of circles is seen as a negative.’It’s not professional. It’s only a bunch of people clomping around on stage. So what can we community theater people do, other than doing great theater, what else can we do to see how good community theater is?

Leta: I think that is the answer. I see lots of shows. I figured out. I love spreadsheets. It’s one of the reasons why I love being Adjudication Coordinator. It’s a job that involves emailing people and filling in boxes on spreadsheets. It makes me very happy. And so I figured out at one point that between rehearsals, performances, and the shows I see I spend 200 nights a year at least in theaters and rehearsal halls.

I see a whole range. I see some truly, truly excellent shows. The ones that kill me are when I’m seeing truly truly excellent shows and the theater holds 250 people and I am one of 25. That happened when I saw Terranova. That broke my heart. That show was just lovely and heartbreaking and there was a little clump of us there the night I was there.

I go to see high school shows. I go to see college shows. If they are selling the tickets and they are not locking the doors I am probably likely to go in. I think the best thing a community theater can do is just to keep striving to do excellent work. Do the best work you are capable of. Do it over and over.

My boss now comes to see most of the shows I do. And he has been very impressed with what he has seen in the theaters around the area. He has started going to other theaters. I ran into him one night when I was down at Port City seeing Veronica’s Room. He spreads the word. He tells people, “Oh yeah. I saw this how, it was good. You should go.” I guess that is it. Tell people to tell people to go.

We are very lucky in this area. The last statistic that I read, there are over 200 community and professional theaters in this area. A lot of the professionals started out in community. I see people all the time working professionally who I shared a stage with. I am happiest in community theater. I like community theater. I like the camaraderie. I like the working hours. I like the fact that I can do shows because I like the show or I like the group rather than I need to pay my rent. My cousin is a sound designer up in New York and his girlfriend is a costumer. They do not have that luxury. They take the next job that pays because they like to live indoors.

I think community theater in this area would get more respect except that we have have so much theater. People can open a paper or go online any day of the week and find something good to see. I am a member through Silver Spring Stage, my home team, I am a member of the American Association of Community Theaters. I belong to their email list. There are emails that I get from all over the country from people asking questions, “Well we are thinking about doing this season, does anyone have any suggestions about such and such?”

At one point the different companies were talking about their budgets. There are community theaters in little towns in Nebraska that are the only game in town that have million dollar budgets. Silver Spring does not spend a million dollars in ten years. I do not think we have spent a million dollars in the forty years that we have been in existence. We are very very lucky to have as much theater as we do here, but it means a lot of competition and you can overlook entire blocks of types of theater and not even know you have missed anything.

Mike: Do we have too much theater?

Leta: Part of me wants to say yes. Part of me when I watched theaters send out emails nearly constantly that says, “Help, we need running crew. Help, if you can help us with load in. Help! We need one man need one man ages X to Y.” I like to joke that you will never, ever see an email that says,”Help, we need women.”

The companies where there are two or three theaters in a 50 mile radius. It means a lot of people do not get to do theater. They audition, but they get beat out. On the other hand, those theaters have waiting lists for running crew. And it becomes a community activity and their performances sell out because it is something to do in the area and they are very excited about it. So, yes I am sad. We lost Tapestry Theater Company at the end of last year and I was sorry to see them close their doors, but the selfish part of me thought, “Ooo, that means their technical people are available.”

Mike: We also had several companies merge together. Three theaters became one in McLean. CCT/Second Flight became one.

Leta: I think that is smart. Especially when you find a company that has a similar viewpoint to yours and likes to perform similar sorts of shows, why compete? Join forces, work together.

Mike: Anything else we should chat about?

Leta: Am I allowed to say what a lovely experience it has been working you on this show. You and Laura?

Mike: Sure. Absolutely.

Leta: I always enjoy working with the Providence Players. This is my second show with them and I come back as often as they let me, but it has been a delight having you as our stage manager. You are organized and prepared and unflappable. I have yet to see you…

Mike: I have not flapped yet.

Leta: You have not flapped yet.

Mike: Well thank you. We enjoy it.

Leta: Good. Glad to hear it.

Mike: Well thank you very much for chatting. We had a good time.

Leta: Thank you. I appreciate the opportunity.

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started ShowBizRadio in August 2005 because they love live theater. They each have both performed in and worked behind the scenes in DC area productions, as well as earned a Career Studies Certificate in Theater from Northern Virginia Community College. Mike & Laura are each members of the American Theatre Critics Association, and Mike is a member of the Online News Association.

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