MARLENE HALL: My parents were great about taking me to the theater in DC all through my childhood. It gave me a great appreciation for the Arts. I love music. I love dancing. I love storytelling. My mom was also a ballerina performing in DC. I’ve dabbled in some acting myself. I was a supernumerary for Carmen at the Kennedy Center with Denyce Graves and was on The Learning Channel’s Cupcake Sisters and Travel Channel. I’ve also studied and performed improv in DC under the tutelage of the great Shawn Westfall and in Chicago at the iO Theater under the famous Charna Halpern. I also help with the GI Film Festival and it is so inspiring being around filmmakers living their dream.
JL: How long have you lived and worked as a theatre critic in D.C.? What JL: brought you here? Why have you stayed?
MH: I’ve been writing about theater with AskMissA.com for about 2 years I believe. AskMissA was founded and run by Andrea Rodgers. She has provided so many great opportunities for me to attend theater events. I’m from the DC area and moved back here after my military service. I’ve stayed because it is home for me and have family and lots of friends here. I also find DC super exciting.
JL: How do you define the work you do? Specifically, what is the role of the theatre critic in the world of theatre? What contribution do you hope to make in the D.C. Theatre community and the American Theatre?
MH: My role as a theater critic is to let people know about the great theater in town and the amazing actors/ actresses here. I think theater is powerful and inspires people. I love inspiring people.
JL: If your work as a theatre critic doesn’t pay the bills, what else do you do? How do you balance this work with your play viewing and criticism?
MH: I’m working for myself in public relations, in addition I help the matchmaker Michelle Jacoby find clients (we are looking for men!) and I also get people to switch their utility meters to Viridian green energy. I do theater in the evening during my free time.
JL: What skills and traits do you feel a successful theatre critic should have when writing about theatre, especially when it comes to new plays?
MH: The first thing is having an open mind. I pre-judged the first time I went to go see a Shakespeare show at Synetic Theater and it was nothing I thought it would be. It blew me away. I also think it’s important to do your research on the playwrights and the actors of the show. I love to give a unique take on what I saw.
JL: What is your writing and viewing process? Do you read the script prior to seeing a production? Do you research the author and/or world of the play? Do you read the program notes?
MH: I tend to read the program notes first then watch the show. After the show I research the play, the author. Sometimes I interview the actor or actress in the show too. I like to see things from all angles. The press releases help too.
JL: In the article, “Ohio Critic's Tough Words Elicit Rough Reaction,” Denver Post Theater Critic John Moore states: “There is no universal rule book for criticism, no how-to manual. My guidelines: Be true to your visceral emotional response, good or bad. State your case and back it up. Be a catalyst for discussion. Encourage dialogue. Don't be personal. Never try to be funny at the expense of someone's feelings.” What guidelines, rules or standards do you have for your own work? Have you always upheld them? If so, at what cost? If not, what shifted the line for you?
MH: Well I’m not looking to destroy anyone in my reviews. I want people to know about the plays, the theaters, the actors, the directors and the talent in DC. If a play is bad I won’t write about it, which has happened only once. I believe Art inspires and enlightens people. The more people I can reach about the Arts in DC, the better.
JL: What is the greatest part of being a theatre critic? What has been your most difficult challenge?
MH: The greatest thing is I’ve seen so many amazing shows, met the most incredible people, and learned a lot. I’ve seen actors Patrick Stewart and Kevin Kline be interviewed by Shakespeare’s Theater Director Michael Kahn. The most difficult challenge is probably the writing about the play process. Sometimes it’s hard to know where to start and what angle to take, but once done I’m so proud of it.
JL: Who are your favorite playwrights? What is it about their work that inspires or draws you to them?
MH: I love Mel Brooks of The Producers. I love the comedy in face of adversity. I love the talent that people have on stage as it inspires people.
JL: DC artistic directors …
MH: like Eric Schaefer at Signature Theater are pure visionaries. This theater won a Tony Award and it’s right there in Shirlington. I also love Pataa Tsikurishvili of Synetic Theater. He takes Shakespeare and elevates it into a physical masterpiece. I also love Shakespear Theater’s Michael Kahn. This man was knighted by England. We have living history and an amazing talent with Michael Kahn.
JL: DC actors, designers and directors are ...
MH: bountiful and so talented. I love actors Will Gartshore, Alex Mills, Scott Brown, Irina Tsikurishvili, Sherri Edelen, Carolyn Cole, etc. There are too many names to mention. The theater in this town is a heavenly godsend.
JL: DC playwrights are …
MH: awesome. I do not know that many off hand, but I do know Matt Conners of Signature Theater who composes the music for many of the shows at Signature. I love it. We need local talent and I believe the Young Playwrights do a good job of seeking out new talent in the area.
JL: DC audiences are ...
MH: appreciative, but we need to attract the younger generation to theater. I think the Woolly Mammoth does a good job of that. I also like the 35 and under nights where tickets are cheaper at Shakespeare Theater and Synetic Theater.
JL: How do you feel the DC theatre community has addressed the issues of race and gender parity? How has this particular issue impacted you and your work?
MH: Gosh, I’ve not really thought of that. I think we have definitely made progress, but I want to see more female playwrights.
JL: What advice do you have for an up and coming DC based theatre critic who has just moved to the area?
MH: Just dive in. Learn as much as you can. Go to as many shows as you can and meet as many people as you can. DC is a place, as one actor told me, that actors and playwrights can make a full-time living. Plays are alive and well in DC.