Five decades of quality groundbreaking work will ensure the name Tony Hall remains a foundation pillar of local and regional theatre.
Tony, 71, died on Monday after suffering a heart attack at his Tobago home. The San Fernando-born playwright/actor/director will, however, forever be heralded as a pioneer in community theatre, television and film.
Born Michael Anthony Hall in San Fernando in 1948, he grew up in a creative family. His younger brother is comedian/radio personality Dennis “Sprangalang” Hall. As a young man, Tony set about establishing himself as a playwright and actor and grew his profile under the patronage of the late poet laureate & Nobel Prize winner in Literature, Derek Walcott. The St Lucian master mentored Tony for eight years between 1973 to 1981.
Hall went on to direct productions for the street, stage and screen with equal passion. In 1987, the University of Alberta and the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology graduate forged another powerful creative connection. This time he paired with legendary mas master, Peter Minshall, on a Carnival production.
In 1990, Hall founded Lordstreet Theatre “Peoples of the Sea” Company, with Errol Fabien. Lordstreet produced a series of landmark award-winning plays including: Jean and Dinah . . . Speak Their Minds Publicly (1994); Twilight Cafe (2001); The Brand New Lucky Diamond Horseshoe Club (2006) with lyrics and music by David Rudder; and MISS MILES the Woman of the World (2011), among others.
Fabien is reported to be devastated by the passing of his long-time friend. Hall, along with Fabien, Christopher Laird, Bruce Paddington and others started the Gayelle television series in the 1980s. This series provided a much needed platform for all local cultural expressions and served as a promotional billboard for even the smallest of community events. A literal voice for the grassroots.
Jouvay in the theatre
Tony Hall again created history with the formation of his Jouvay Popular Theatre Process (JPTP). The drama workshop revolutionised Caribbean theatre through a unique ideology of bringing street performance values onto the stage to stimulate an awakened regional conscience, self-awareness and group mobilisation.
Veteran actor Michael Cherrie, who toured and performed extensively with Tony all over the world, says Tony’s self-awakening message was embraced and understood everywhere they went.
“His understanding of the JPTP and using the whole idea of Jouvay as a very empowering theatre tool, not just for actors and theatre practitioners, but for people.
“People from all walks of life, from all over the world, got an understanding and connection to themselves through his use of Jouvert characters, of stick-fighting, of kalinda and how those rituals are so valuable to us and to humanity. The uniqueness of his approach to theatre was really not just for the region but for the world,” Cherrie told Kitcharee on Friday.
Taking to the school Hall
Tony shared his philosophy and ideology in the classroom as a lecturer and arts facilitator at Trinity College, Hartford, Connecticut. There he taught Festival and Drama in a special Trinity-in-Trinidad study abroad programme. He later went on to Indiana State University in Terre Haute, where he directed two world premiere productions including: The Brand New Lucky Diamond Horseshoe Club (2004) with David Rudder and Arthur Feinsod’s Table 17 (2007).
Tony brought his vast wealth of experience and knowledge back home to the University of Trinidad and Tobago (UTT) and The University of the West Indies (The UWI), St Augustine. He also taught in the UK at the University of Winchester, the University of Bradford and The Carnival Learning Centre, Ryde, Isle of Wight.
In 2016, he presented MUD!—a ritual of the sunrise procession at the Norwegian Theatre Academy, Fredrikstad. Later that year “Underwater Hacking”, a JPTP workshop, was presented at a symposium on arts education at Zurich University of the Arts, Zurich, Switzerland.
Rhoma Spencer, another shining protoje of Tony Hall says the full, extensive range of work of her mentor could never be appreciated in one lifetime.
“Tony was a visionary and I don’t think we in T&T understand what we have lost. His work, not only in Trinidad but in Scandinavian Europe in Norway, in Costa Rica, in Los Angeles (USA), his work is much more felt and appreciated outside the region. And yet everything he did as an artiste was all about us as Caribbean people, starting first with us in T&T.
“We here in T&T haven’t really felt the magnitude of the work. We the students both local and international, students like myself because I was one of his students, we are the ones that will hopefully carry on the legacy of Tony Hall and the body of work he has left with us, it is up to us to carry on with it,” Spencer told Kitcharee on Friday.
Tony also excelled as a screenwriter and TV/film producer. His Banyan Video Studio produced the classics: And the Dish Ran Away with the Spoon (1992) an award-winning BBC/TVE/Banyan documentary that gives “an astonishingly searing look at TV” in the Caribbean and Gayelle (1985-1990) a ground-breaking, internationally acclaimed, cultural magazine for TV.
Banyan, received the Vanguard Award from the National Drama Association of Trinidad and Tobago (NDATT) in 2002 for innovative groundbreaking television. In 2012 Tony was honoured for his Invaluable Contribution to Theatre Arts and Playwriting locally and abroad from by San Fernando Arts Council. In 2013 he received a Lifetime Achievement Award from NDATT at their Annual Theatre Festival.
Rapso artiste/actor Wendell Manwarren, another student of Tony Hall summed up his teacher as “a mas man and an international man of theatre” when he spoke to Kitcharee last week.“He is an all-round inspiration for many generations. He did it all with such consummate ease or very little ‘efforting’ as he liked to say. He would always say ‘Relaxafari’,” Manwarren concluded.