Margo Hall Set to Lead the Lorraine Hansberry Theatre Into an Exciting New Future

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Margo Hall is the new artistic director of the Lorraine Hansberry Theatre in San Francisco. (Lisa Keating)

For Margo Hall, growing up in Detroit, Michigan meant an early exposure to the arts. Enrolled from a young age in “every dance class” and “every choir,” she says, and influenced by her Motown-employed stepfather and his circle of musician friends, Hall gained a strong foundation in the arts—even before she knew that she’d wind up dedicating her life to them.

Recently announced as the new artistic director for the Lorraine Hansberry Theatre, Hall brings a lifetime of learning, skill, and dedication to the role. And as the first woman to hold the position in the company, she’s ready to implement her vision of a program dedicated to nurturing the voices of young, Black female and non-binary playwrights, a welcome homage to the theater’s namesake.

Cast of 'Barbeque' by Robert O'Hara at SF Playhouse. Margo Hall in red. (Jessica Palopoli)

Described by biographers as a “force of nature,” Lorraine Hansberry’s legacy lives on, despite the playwright and activist's tragically early death from pancreatic cancer at the age of 34. One of those legacies has been carried forward in the form of the Lorraine Hansberry Theatre, founded in 1981 by Stanley Williams and Quentin Easter, who were determined to build to build an artistic home for Black theater-makers. And while the theater has experienced a series of material setbacks over the years—losing its Sutter Street space in 2007, and its founders within weeks of each other in 2010—its influence as an incubator for Black artists has remained intact.

One such artist is Hall, the Bay Area’s own force of nature. Although this will be her first time in the role of artistic director, it’s certainly not her first time creating and holding artistic space, a talent she’s cultivated over the course of many years—particularly with the long-running theater collective, Campo Santo.

Margo Hall as Fe in 'Stairway to Heaven,' by Jessica Hagedorn, with Campo Santo. (Jeff Fohl)

It’s with Campo Santo that Hall first made the leap from acting to directing, in a 1998 co-production with Word for Word. Although she was initially reluctant, her fellow company members (“my brothers,” she remarks fondly) talked her into it by telling her, “You tell us what to do all the time anyway, so you might as well just direct this play.”

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Saying “yes” to unexpected opportunity—whether it’s been directing, teaching, or mentoring a new generation of artistic voices—has been a trademark of Hall’s multi-faceted career.

After the success of her directorial debut, Hall was determined to learn more about the craft, which she knew involved a lot more than the “hanging out,” as she refers to the process, with her Campo Santo family. This took the form of shadowing directors she admired, and learning the vocabulary of time management, and working with designers and production staff in bigger theaters.

“A lot of my directing aesthetic comes from being an actor and understanding how to work with actors,” she reflects. “I feel my strength is really pulling the work out of actors in a way that they feel appreciated.” Over the years she’s cultivated her skills in both, and her work has appeared in one capacity or another on pretty much every major Bay Area stage (as well as films like 2016's Blindspotting).

Margo Hall and Aldo Billingslea star in Fences at California Shakespeare Theater
Margo Hall and Aldo Billingslea star in 'Fences' at California Shakespeare Theater. (Photo: Kevin Berne/California Shakespeare Theater)

It’s common to refer to actors who also sing and dance as “triple threats,” and by extension, Hall could be considered a sextuple threat, at minimum: she also directs, teaches and writes. But artistic directorship has been one role she’s put off, even though this isn’t the first time over the past ten years that the Lorraine Hansberry has invited her to take it on. For one reason or another, she never felt the time was right.

“Even this time around, if you asked me six months ago if I thought I would be the artistic director of Lorraine Hansberry I would tell you no, that wasn’t my plan,” she admits. But her perspective shifted during the pandemic, causing her to reevaluate where she wanted to channel her energies. And so, this time when the company’s executive director Stephanie Shoffner offered her the position, she was ready to “once again...say yes to something I had no idea of what to do!”

While she’s still navigating the specifics of fundraising and day-to-day operations, she’s not short on artistic ideas. She hopes that the New Black Voices initiative for playwrights will eventually include full productions, and she’s eager to see a return to producing Black classics as well as contemporary, multi-disciplinary work, a particular strength of Campo Santo.

Margo Hall in 'Fe in the Desert,' by Jessica Hagedorn, with Campo Santo. (Jeff Fohl)

As a mentor and a leader, Hall exudes a self-possession instilled in her from a young age and honed over her long career.

“I grew up in a household where...being Black was the best thing ever,” she reminisces. “Not that we were better than anyone else, but that we were these powerful beings.” Learning to keep hold of her power, and “show up as herself” on every project has been a lifelong pursuit, and one with many levels and lessons. But now, she admits, she doesn’t know any other way.

“Just imagine if we all were confident in ourselves, and we came into a room together to create art in a collaborative way, with all of this confident powerful energy,” she enthuses. Having the opportunity to implement this vision of collaborative confidence at the Lorraine Hansberry Theatre is sure to be an inspiring legacy all its own.

More information about the Lorraine Hansberry Theatre and Margo Hall can be found here.