Celebrating Tony Hall's Life
Updated: Apr 28, 2020
Tony Hall was a mentor, a friend, an inspiration, a collaborator, a legend. He passed from this life onto whatever comes first today, leaving so many of us in tears and wails of sorrow, and in the deepest gratefulness for his life, for his memory, and for what he taught us. As my mind and heart reel from the terrible news of him leaving us, I want to fiercely celebrate the beauty that was his life. In 2018, during my first year of graduate school, I was assigned to write a paper about a director whose career inspires me. I wrote about Tony. I will post what I wrote here as a small act of memorial to his eternal spirit and transformative work.
Tony Hall: The Art of Play
Before starting this paper I thought long and hard about the prompt to choose a director whose career inspires me. It was particularly difficult to answer, because the work I hope to do has so many different facets and aspects. I looked up many amazing directors, from my early inspirations of Augusto Boal and Bertolt Brecht, both of whose work I have drawn from heavily over the years, to contemporary artists in the United States doing remarkable work, such as Katy Rubin and Torange Yeghiazarian. But their trajectories weren’t ones I am interested in following. Then I realized that the director whose footsteps I strive every day to follow, and whose career I should be so lucky as to even come close to emulating, is a man who I am lucky to be able to call a mentor of mine: Anthony ‘Tony’ Hall.
Tony’s theatre performance method, Jouvay Popular Theatre Process (JPTP), is what invigorated my work after a university experience that left me feeling frustrated with the theatre methods regularly being taught. It was in Tony’s playwrights circle that I discovered some of the pieces of theatre that I ended up developing and directing, and it is his attitude towards his own work that I find the most inspiration when I think about how I want to hold myself. I also realized that I had never really looked closely at the steps of Tony’s career. So I sat down to do that. Through numerous articles, the (only) history book that looks at his career, close-readings of his plays, and a two and a half hour Skype interview which he was generous enough to indulge me with, I was able to piece together the journey that has made Tony Hall one of the most celebrated theatre practitioners in Trinidad and Tobago, whose work also has broad international appeal. In doing so, I have also gained a deeper understanding of what makes him simultaneously so grounded, humble, and committed to living a life full of transformative work, personal love, and generosity.
Born July 16, 1948 in the Caribbean country Trinidad and Tobago (“Celebrating”, 1), Tony grew up and attended Naparima College for secondary school in San Fernando, the second largest city in Trinidad and Tobago. From close to the age of five Tony remembers being taken each year to play Jouvay with his mother and brother, Dennis. Jouvay is the opening of Trinidad’s world-famous Carnival. It was in this ritual with its brilliant performances by people playing Old Mas characters, and playing themselves covered in mud and oil, and its narratives that Tony first was drawn to the theatre in a broad sense of the word. By the time he was twenty, Tony and his brother, who was becoming a successful Calypsonian known as ‘Sprangalang,’ were bringing out their own jouvay bands. At age twenty-one, in 1969, Tony started studying at the University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada, and earned a four-year degree in drama and education. During this period Tony was learning about the Western theatre cannon, including the more progressive branches such as Brecht and Boal. What he wasn’t learning, though, was anything that would help connect him back to his roots -- the Carnival performance he had grown up in. Tony describes feeling like something of an imposter as he learned to repeat and even teach this Western narrative he had learned.
Upon graduating, Tony returned to Trinidad and Tobago, where he apprenticed under Derek Walcott at the Trinidad Theatre Workshop (TTW). Walcott and the TTW, were doing quite well in 1973 when Tony joined. His apprenticeship under Walcott included a range of activities from acting in major productions and learning to direct, to helping Walcott in his garden. TTW under Walcott was a hub of activity. Black and mixed middle and upper class society populated their audiences. Walcott, a St. Lucian by birth, had become a central hub for “cultured” Trinidadian identity. Walcott was already famous on the world stage, from a film production of his play Dream on Monkey Mountain having been broadcast on NBC in February 1970 (King, 122), to a successful tour world tour that included New Zealand, and the United States. According to Tony's recollections of Walcott when the later passed in 2017, “We both romanticized the notion of my being the “young apprentice” to the Master Artist” (Hall “Early”).
TTW brought together some of the aesthetics of Carnival traditions and western-style theatre. The Joker of Seville, for example, was supposed to be “an adaptation of the seventeenth century Spanish classic, Tirso de Molina’s El Burlador de Sevilla, the story of Don Juan. Instead, Derek wrote his own version, using as his metaphor the model of a stick fight arena or Gayelle, based in a Trinidadian village, San Juan” (Hall “Early”). Tony himself originated the role of Don Pedro in the first production of The Joker of Seville, and went on to originate other Walcott roles. This period was most important for his journey in that it put him on the path to becoming a director and playwright himself. Tony’s directorial debut came in 1977, in the form of The Maids by Jean Genet. There was some contention over whether or not the play would be staged, due to Walcott’s desire to change around the season against the wishes of other TTW members (King, 260). Tony nonetheless ended up directing The Maids, and despite some tensions, they all continued to work together.
By this time Tony was starting to branch out into television. He was the Drama Director for a project for the Educational Department of Trinidad’s Family Planning Association with Banyan Studio’s Trinidad Television Workshop. He had been working with Christopher Laid, a pioneer of TV in Trinidad and Tobago, throughout most of the 1970s, directing and working as a writer on a series of productions by Laird’s company Banyan, in which Tony also became a leader. After leaving his position at TTW in 1981, Tony went back to the University of Alberta where he was a Sessional Lecturer/Visiting Artist in Residence until 1984. During this time, he worked with his former professor, David Barnet, where he was engaged in what he calls “popular theatre,” inspired by the work of Augusto Boal and Paul Freire. He worked with a range of groups, from Aboriginal Canadians cut off from social opportunities, to single mothers, as well as a project with Caribbean youth living in Canada, who were in the last years of high school or first years of universities, many of whom had considered suicide. In these works, as he says, he “brought the theatre and the political together” (Hearn).
He continued to meld politics and theatre, as is the nature of most popular performance upon his return in 1984. In 1985 Tony was involved in a re-enactment with Union Workers of the 1937 Labour Riots in Fyzabad, Trinidad. He also continued to work in television, collaborating with his brother Sprangalang, and Niala Maharaj, to create one of the “most successful magazine programs in the Caribbean on TV” (“Celebrating”, 2). His portfolio was full in the later half of the 1980s, as a television producer/director, a film actor, theatre director, with both adults and children, both inside and outside of the TTW, Tony also began working with Trinidad and Tobago’s most famous Mas maker, Peter Minshall. It was out of these days of activity on three different performance-centered fronts in Trinidad and Tobago, as well as his history stretching back to his early days of jouvay with his mother in San Fernando, that Tony’s concept of Jouvay Popular Theatre Process was born.
In 1990 he was invited to go to England and teach a class on “African theatre”. He was replacing, as he describes it, “a real African with a real degree” (Hearn). He says that he was “thrown back on” himself. For most of his career he had been exploring theatre as a means of resistance, as a means of putting one’s history together and creating theatre as means of survival. While looking back on the jouvay pilgrimage he used to take every year with his mother, he realized that while he was teaching theatre in Canada, he was always teaching texts, always “repeating what I had learned.” The narrative he had been taught, and was now teaching himself, started with the Greeks, and went through the European theatre cannon. For years he suffered with the anxiety that he was not being authentic. He felt as though he was not really present in the workshops he was teaching. So, in this instance of being asked to teach African theatre, he found himself asking deeper questions than the ones he had been taught.
“The issue for me,” Tony explained, “was how come I couldn’t find something in my own life experience of growing up in San Fernando, that would be the basis of my functioning. How come my functioning had to come for elsewhere? How come I had to read a book? And how come, if I hadn’t read I book, I didn’t know anything. This raises an issue of knowledge, and where knowledge comes from.” He then started to articulate what became known as JPTP, a performance methodology that would come to define his work from this point forward, as well as inspire every artist who came in contact with it. JPTP all began with a workshop of the “Mas process” that would develop into a street theatre process, a procession that would be about whichever group of people and who they were. He is clear that he only created JPTP in order to understand himself, his roots, and his presence. It was not about being prescriptive, or about anyone else “following” anything he has done.
Tony is, if nothing else, anti-dogma. As JPTP developed, and he was invited to lecture about it in Europe, the United States, as well as in Trinidad and Jamaica, he found it strange that the students of the process began to think of it as a prescriptive “method” to follow. This is not what JPTP is about in Tony’s mind. To him “it is a story of how I found something that mattered to me, and therefore it is a platform from which anyone who encountered it can go on a journey to find out what is important to them” (Hearn). In his seminal lecture on the process that took place at the University of Winchester, he said: “Jouvay Process can also be seen as the continual manifestation of an awakening in the everyday lives of people on the islands as they emancipate themselves in the new world. This manifestation underscores a way of life that is reflected in the masquerade (mas) of the carnival days” (Hall “Jouvay”, 299). JPTP caught my attention when I started working with Tony, informing the way that I did theatre from that point on. It is tempting, when looking at Tony’s work, to try and make it the Answer to a Question you have been asking. But for Tony, it isn’t an answer, but instead a methodology, a practice, that you can use to find your own answer, one that he could never guess.
One of the stories that best encapsulates Tony’s attitude towards his work is an encounter with Richard Schechner. Schechner came to Trinidad in July 2013 in search of new material for a class he was going to teach. He was apparently told that he had to talk to Tony Hall, who is well known throughout the artistic community as a leader in multiple fields. Tony says he felt that Schechner was “looking for something” he could “discover” and bring back. However, Tony laughed when talking about it. He said: "My mind was not on the big Richard Schechner pronouncement stage. I got the impression that he was trying to get me to say things that I could of said if I was onto that bullshit. But it just wouldn’t have been true, it wouldn't have been things that I saw, it would have been things that I read about the street. It was not things that I had knew and had experienced. And that was what I was interested in exploring in a non-academic, non-pronouncement way. So, at the end of our day, I got the sense that he was disappointed that I didn’t give him anything revolutionary" (Hearn). Tony seems particularly entertained that this world-famous theatre theoretician, thought that he, Tony, could provide some kind of “new” way of doing theatre that he, Schechner, could present on a global platform. To Tony the goal is to explore the reality around you, in a humble manner.
In 1990, around the same time as he solidified some thoughts around JPTP, he founded the Lordstreet Theatre company with Errol Fabien. He produced a series of award winning Mas bands in the '90s, more successful television programs, and a multi-award-winning documentary called And the Dish Ran Away with the Spoon. You can start to feel the change in Tony’s work following JPTP. He is no longer searching for where his center is, he started focusing on work that excited him and spoke to his roots and his experiences. His 1994 production of a play he wrote and directed, called Jean and Dinah … Speak Their Minds Publicly, performed in Hartford, Connecticut, Hamilton, New York, New York, New York, and, of course, Port-of-Spain, Trinidad and Tobago. He continued to direct plays by other Caribbean playwrights, mostly in Connecticut, where he served as the Artist-in-Residence at Trinity College. As the 2000s came and went, Tony wrote more plays, producing them and directing some in Canada, the US and Trinidad and Tobago. He continued to be deeply involved in Carnival, blurring the lines between traditional western theatre practice and indigenous Carnival practices.
Tony’s work began winning major awards in the 2000s. Banyan Television won the Vanguard Award in 2002 from the National Drama Association of Trinidad and Tobago (NDATT), and in 2013 Tony himself received a Lifetime Contribution to the Theatre Award by NDATT. In 2014 he was honored by US Congresswoman Yvette D. Clarke, of the 9th Congressional District of New York, in recognition of his contribution to community television and theatre in the Caribbean. When asked about this dichotomy between being a professor in institutions, and someone who seems to reject the institution, he says that he starts all his classes by “setting up something and undercutting it myself”. He tells his students not to believe anything anyone tells them. It is this willingness to let go of his own importance, his own conclusions, that makes Tony’s work so refreshing, and so powerful.
Today he continues to write new plays, lead JPTP workshops, teach at the University of the West Indies and Trinity College, and create work for Carnival, the proscenium theatre, and every place in between. Even as his work continues, Tony puts in place foundations for others to be able to continue and transform what he has started. He no longer produces through Banyan, but it continues to produce work under others. Lordstreet Theatre still runs monthly playwright circles, that Tony himself started in 2001, but he has given the leadership over to a young theatre artist he trained. He has now taught so many people JPTP, indirectly or directly, that scholars and practitioners are starting to use it independently in their own work.
Tony’s career is impressive, inspiring, and deeply important not just for the wide range of work he has done, awards received, and students taught, but for his continued attitude that he is not any more worthy of listening to than anyone else. Despite his fame in Trinidad and Tobago, he has never pursued celebrity, though he saw many of his contemporaries take that route. Tony still walks everywhere or takes public transportation, drinking in the sites and smells and sounds of the streets where his journey began and continues. You cannot come in contact with his work without the feeling that your mind has been opened. If you tell him he’s been instrumental in your journey he laughs and tells you that life is strange.
Hall, Tony. “Early Experiences with the Trinidad Theatre Workshop.” Caribbean Memories of Derek Walcott, Critical Stages/Scènes Critiques, 8 Mar. 2018, www.critical-stages.org/16/caribbean-memories-of-derek-walcott/.
Hall, Tony. “Jouvay Popular Theatre Process : Finding the Interior.” Carnival: Theory and Practice, edited by Christopher Innes, Africa World Press, 2013, pp. 299–314.
Hearn, Timmia, and Anthony Hall. “Skype Interview on Miss Miles and JPTP.” 1 Nov. 2018.
King, Bruce. Derek Walcott and West Indian Drama: "Not Only a Playwright but a Company": the Trinidad Theatre Workshop, 1959-1993. Clarendon, 1997.
Martin, Carol. “Trinidad Carnival Glossary.” TDR (1988-), vol. 42, no. 3, 1998, pp. 220–235. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/1146693.
Timeline of Major Events in the Career of Tony Hall:
1969-73 - went to University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada - degree in drama and education
1975 - performed in the world premiere of The Joker of Seville, as the character of Don Pedro (King, 229).
1973-1981 - apprenticed under Derek Walcott with the Trinidad Theatre Workshop
1976-81 - performed in O’Babylon
1977 - directed The Maids by Jean Genet under the guidance of Walcott at TTW, despite previous struggles with Walcott about what would be programmed for the season (King, 271).
1978 - was the Drama Director producing thirteen half-house tapes for the Educationa Department of Trinidad’s Family Planning Association with Banyan Studio’s Trinidad Television Workshop
1978-80 - got a diploma in film and advanced television from the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology
1970s, 80s, 90s - Through the Banyan Limted production house he founded with Christopher Laird, he produced Trinbagonian soap operas, TV dramas and current affairs programs
1984 - directed We Can’t Pay, We Won’t pay! by Dario Fo
1985 - Labour Riots 1937 re-enactments (with Union Workers) - An Able Production for Oilfields Workers Trade Union, Fyzabad, Trinidad
1985-90 - with Sprangalang and Niala Maharaj, created one of the most successful magazine programs in the Caribbean on TV, that was broadcast on the channel Gayelle.
1987 - directed a production of Ti-Jean at Noble Douglas’s Lilliput Children’s Theatre (King, 349).
1987 - took over directing Walcott’s Beef, No Chicken, that William Holder was directing when he passed away, at TTW
1987 - Lead actor – OBEAH (Hugh Robertson) – Feature film, Sharc, Trinidad/USA
1987 - Monster March (with Errol Sitahal & Dennis Hall) opens at Oilfields Workers Trade Union, Palms Club, San Fernando
1987 - Petit Pierrot (Carinival is Colour, A Minshall Mas)
1990 - presented at the University of Winchester, King Alfred Campus, UK, the Jouvay Popular Theatre Process as a “possibly helpful ‘post post-New World’ perspective on drama practice” (“Celebrating”, 1).
1990s - launched the Lordstreet Theatre Company with Errol Fabien
1990 - produced the Mas band A Band on Drugs, First prize in National Old Mas (Masquerade) Competition, Trinidad & Tobago
1991 - produced the Mas band A Band On Violence
1992 - produced the Mas band A Band on US
1992 - Caricom Prize to Banyan Television: For fostering regional integration - CARIBBEAN EYE - Best Television Series (Caribbean Publishers and Broadcasters Association)
1992 - directed with Christopher laird the award winning BBC/TVE/Banyan documentary film And the Dish Ran Away With the Spoon, produced by Bruch Paddington. It won a number of awards including Best Video Documentary at the Third Caribbean Film & Video Festival in Martinique in 1992, and the Public Affairs Documentary Category at the 13th annual International Film and Video Competition, at the National Black Programming Consortium, in Ohio in 1993
1994 - Produced his award-winning play Jean and Dinah … Speak their Minds Publicly
1995 - Supporting Actor - THE FINAL PASSAGE (Part One) by Caryl Phillips directed by Sir Peter Hall – TV series, Channel 4, UK
1998 - Jean and Dinah plays in Hardford, Hamilton New York and New York, New York
1998 - Directed The Dragon Can't Dance by Earl Lovelace, Austin Arts Center, Goodwin Theatre, Hartford
1998-2007 - served as an Artist-in-Residence at Trinity College, Hartford, CT
1999 - his new play RED HOUSE [Fire! Fire!] (Meta-Village Theatre) opens - World Premiere in Port of Spain
1999-2017 - was the On-Site Academic Director at Trinity College’s Trinity-in-Trinidad Global Learning Site
2000 - Directed Ti-Jean & His Brothers by Derek Walcott, Austin Arts Center, Goodwin Theatre, Hartford
2001 - MUD! opens in Hartford and Jean and Dinah . . . opens in Toronto
2001 - started Camboulay Riots 1881 re-enactments begin with John Cupid, Norvan Fullerton, Eintou Springer and community groups, Port of Spain
2002 - Twilight Cafe [The Last Breakfast] opens - World Premiere in Port of Spain
2002 - Jean and Dinah . . . published
2002 - National Drama Association of Trinidad and Tobago - Vanguard Award 2002 to Banyan Television
2003 - Lordstreet Theatre Company started a Playwrights Workshop
2003 - Jean and Dinah . . . opens in Birmingham, Leicester, London, England, directed by Godfrey Sealey with Christine Johnston, Susan Hannays-Abraham and Morgan.
2003 - Macqueripe: A Navel Operation performed on Macqueripe Beach (Trinity in Trinidad Global Learning Site)
2004 - The Brand New Lucky Diamond Horseshoe Club (with David Rudder) opens - World Premiere in Terre Haute, Indiana
2004 - Red House [Fire! Fire!] and Mud! published
2004 - PLAY MAS (with 3canal, Minshall, Pamberi, etc.) a 13-day festival production opens in Hamburg
2005 - Flag Woman inaugural broadcast on WACK Radio 90.1 FM, San Fernando, Trinidad
2006 - Twilight Cafe [The Last Breakfast] and Flag Woman published
2006 - Staging Mas - a Jouvay Popular Theatre Process (J.P.T.P.) 5-day workshop sponsored by The Arts Council, UK and create.change in Leeds
2006 - The Brand New Lucky Diamond Horseshoe Club (with David Rudder) opens in Port of Spain - Trinidad Carnival 2006
2007 - Twilight Cafe [The Last Breakfast] opens in Toronto directed by Rhoma Spencer
2007 - Jean and Dinah . . . (The French Version at UWI, St Augustine)
2007 - Directed 'Table 17' by Arthur Feinsod - World Premiere in Terre Haute, Indiana
2008 - Jouvay Popular Theatre Process (J.P.T.P.) workshops at University of Bradford and the Isle of Wight Carnival Learning Centre sponsored by The Arts Council, UK and create change
2009 - Avocat Waterfall of Re-Birth performed under the Avocat Waterfall, Avocat River (Trinity in Trinidad Global Learning Site)
2009- JPTP: An Approach to Play-Making. A paper presented at the III Forum Nacional De Performance Negra in Salvador, Bahia, Brazil
2011 - MISS MILES the Woman of the World opens - World Premiere in Port of Spain
2011 - JPTP Workshop for young people at Teatro Luna Blou, Otrobanda, Curaçao
2012 - GENESIS OF THE UNION (OWTU) - a participatory ritual with Arts-in-Action and the workers, Fyzabad
2012 - Monster March (with Errol Sitahal & Dennis Hall) opens at Oilfields Workers Trade Union, Palms Club, San Fernando (featuring Arts-in-Action, directed by Marvin George)
2013 - Lecturer in Global Studies (Festival and Drama) for Trinity-in-Trinidad exploring “Work & Play” and “Festival Arts as Cultural Performance”
2013 - Awarded a Lifetime Contribution to Theatre Award by the NDATT
2013 - MISS MILES appears in Woodford Square, Trinidad, to mark World Anti-Corruption Day 2013, Monday 9th, December
2013 - Trinidad and Tobago Film Festival 2013 Pioneer Award with Banyan
2014 - MISS MILES appears in Woodford Square, Port of Spain, Trinidad, to mark World Anti-Corruption Day 2014, Tuesday 9th, December
2014 - Proclamation Presented on 14th August, 2014 to the Playwright Tony Hall, with great honor and recognition, by Congresswoman Yvette D. Clarke, Member of the United States House of Representatives, Member of Congress Representing the Ninth Congressional District of New York, in recognition of Tony Hall's Contribution to Community Television and Theatre in the Caribbean on the Occasion of the 20th Anniversary of his Lordstreet Theatre Production of the Groundbreaking Play, "Jean and Dinah . . . Speak Their Minds Publicly.
2014 - LIFE IS A PLAY - Tony Hall in a talkshop on 'Jouvay Process' and 'Jamette Consciousness' with Caribbean broadcast luminaries Dave Elcock and Eric St. Bernard with an excerpt from his play "Jean and Dinah . . . Speak Their Minds Publicly" featuring Rhoma Spencer as Dinah and Penelope Spencer as Jean to celebrate Lordstreet Theatre Company presenting the play for twenty years. Presented by The Center for Black Literature at Medgar Evers College, CUNY and Sapodilla Sisters. Wednesday August 13th, 2014, Medgar Evers College, Brooklyn, New York, NY.
2014 - Jouvay Popular Theatre Process (JPTP) workshop, Nature Island Literary Festival, Rosseau, Commonwealth of Dominica, W.I., 9th August, 2014
2014 - MISS MILES the Woman of the World opens in Hartford
2014 - MISS MILES tells her story in Hartford
2014 - MISS MILES - Mas Corruption (A Band On Corruption designed by Minshall), Trinidad Carnival 2014.
2015 - MISS MILES celebrates World Anti-Corruption Day, December 9th (UWI, St Augustine) and MISS MILES the Woman of the World comes back down to sing in the Barrack Yard Calypso Tent Experience (BYTE), Port of Spain.
2016 - MISS MILES celebrates World Anti-Corruption Day, December 9th. (UWI, St Augustine)
2016 - SENSORY HACKING: Symposium on art and strategy relating to the future of higher art education at Zurich University of the Arts (ZHdk)
2016 - MUD! (2016) a 'ritual of the sunrise' in mud and percussion for the 20th Anniversary of the Norwegian Theatre Academy
2016 - MISS MILES sings at Turning Tides Conference Closing Ceremony: Trinity/UWI
2016 - MARCUS & AMY GARVEY were in Trinidad for Carnival 2016: a mas intervention.
2016 - MISS MILES makes an appearance in the lead up to Trinidad Carnival 2016: Adam Smith Square, Port of Spain, Feb. 4th.
Walk good, Tony. We miss you.