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TBA Online: News & Features: October 2019

Rising Together: A Conversation with Margo Hall and Dave J. Abrams

Tuesday, October 8, 2019   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Rotimi Agabiaka
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by Lauren Spencer

In advance of the upcoming TBA Awards Celebration, I chatted with this year’s hosts, Margo Hall and Dave J. Abrams. Hall is a veteran Bay Area artist who wears many hats including actor, director, and playwright, while Abrams has newly carved out significant accolades with his recent performances in musicals such as Berkeley Playhouse’s Ragtime and Contra Costa Civic Theatre’s In The Heights. The duo shared their passion for building community through collective celebration and their belief in the ability of a single tide to lift all boats.

Margo Hall.

Lauren: So Margo, you are an actor, a teacher at Chabot community college, a director, and, perhaps most significantly, you’ve been a mentor to many of the Bay Area’s up and coming actors--myself included. How did Erin Merritt, who is producing the awards show, approach you with the invitation to host this year’s Theatre Bay Area awards?


Margo: Well, Erin and I had been discussing the possibility of my hosting for a few years. It was just a matter of when. And this year, when she reached out and told me her idea for the theme to be “We Rise by Lifting Others,” I felt really connected to that. Supporting others, helping others, I consider that my mission so I could really get behind it.


Dave: When Erin first brought the idea [of hosting] to me, I was really excited. You know, I’ve never hosted an awards show. I’ve performed last year at the TBA awards [where Dave received an award for playing Coalhouse Walker in Berkeley Playhouse’s Ragtime], but this was new. I love to jump into anything new that will push me and I felt that what was happening was spiritually telling me “you need to keep walking in your journey.” Like the universe was recognizing my work. So I had to jump at it and say yes.


Lauren: As Dave mentioned, you both have been a part of the awards before as performers, finalists, and recipients. What is your favorite memory from past years?


Margo: In 2015 TBA kept hounding me to present. They kept asking and finally I was like, “Okay guys, I’ll do it!” They sat me next to Amy Potozkin (Berkeley Repertory Theatre’s casting director). I had worked all day and was starving. They were about to announce the recipient of the Charles Dean Award [given to a local actor who has dedicated their career to the Bay Area]. I remember thinking “Oh, this is gonna take a while, I should sneak out now to get a snack.” When I went to get up, Amy, asked me where I was going and when I said I was going to go across the street to grab a snack--she was like “No, no! I’ll get it!” which I thought was really strange. We’re going back and forth about it when I realize that the presenter is talking about an actor who has worked with Campo Santo and Lorraine Hansberry Theater. Me! I was getting the award! Amy knew the whole time. It was cool that it was a surprise. But it was good that they sat me next to Amy.


Dave: Cause had you not known, you would have been across the street, getting your life right! I think my favorite memory has to be the first time I attended the awards. There is something exciting about the first time because you don’t know what to expect. I came with my grandmother who is my biggest supporter. She wanted to make sure I looked good, and I was in this gold sequined jacket and I felt super GQ, super cute. I remember being in the lobby with my cast and everyone is dressed up. Usually we see each other at rehearsal all sweaty and in rehearsal clothes, so it felt really special.

I was surprised by how big it was, how many people were there. I had no idea that the community was so big and it was cool to see all the connections. There’s my costume designer from a show I did. And there’s my dance teacher from classes I took. All these people connecting who I didn’t even realize knew each other. I thought, this is family right here.

Dave J. Abrams.

Lauren: Do you think this idea of family plays into this year’s theme? How do you interpret “We Rise by Lifting Others” and how do you hope to integrate that theme throughout the evening?

 Dave: I’ve been sitting with this theme and its different possible interpretations. I think of the awards as a celebration where we come together in community to lift each other up. It’s not about competition. Sometimes I think we are afraid we will lose something by supporting others, but I’m excited to focus on the joy of collaboration. I’d like to highlight those people who are already working together. For example Contra Costa Musical Theatre and Center Repertory Theatre or Bay Area Children’s Theatre and 42nd Street Moon, companies that are sharing sets or resources, supporting each other.

 Margo: I always wonder--you know you have these famous people, basketball players, movie stars and I always wonder why they don’t do more. And I don’t just mean donating money, I’m talking about their experience, their knowledge. If they shared that, gave back on a daily basis, where would the world be? Especially for people of color.

 I try to practice what I preach around that. Are there daily opportunities in my world where I can help? I want my legacy to be that I helped others to rise, especially young artists. For example, if a new playwright is trying to get a play produced and I know an artistic director of a company, I call that AD and say “You should check out this person’s work,” because I remember that people opened doors for me, that my mentors were always reaching back.

 Dave: Erin and I have talked about trying to highlight the artists/activists who are really making a change in the community and giving them a platform [at the awards] to speak about their work.

Margo: I hope the night will be an opportunity to highlight those who have gone out of their way to make our community better. They don’t do it for the props. But it is nice to be appreciated.

 Lauren: When you speak about mentors reaching back, it really asserts the significance of intergenerational relationships in our artistic ecosystem. Margo, you and Dave represent two distinct generations of artists in two distinct phases of your respective careers. What role, if any, does that play into the evening?

 Margo: I think we’re still trying to figure that out. To me, it’s almost like a mother/son dynamic. I’ve seen him perform and just think he’s an amazing young man and I want to encourage him to step into the world and take what is his. You have all this power, Dave, and it is so useful to our community.

 Dave: Thank you so much, Margo. I’ve been a fan of yours for a while. Margo is such a force and I think, yeah, I agree about the nurturing relationship we have and how we want to show that somehow to the audience. I don’t want to give anything away … but there will likely be figurative or potentially literal lifting of one another.

 Lauren: I will definitely be looking out for that! If you had to extend a personal invitation to the Bay Area theater community to come out to the award ceremony, what would you say?

 Dave: Whether you’re a finalist or supporter, come. Lift each other up and be lifted. Come as you are, ready to be present with each other and to have a great time. TBA has done a lot of work on making the tickets as inclusive as possible this year with the dynamic pricing. We want to welcome everyone. Come to meet new people and learn about all of the amazing work that’s happening all over the Bay.

 Margo: You know, we are in a time where a lot of things are changing. We’re trying to build new audiences, to create more space for diversity. Because it’s time to mobilize. This time next year, we will be very close to the election. So let’s gather together as the actors, the artists, the activists who are going to fight. Our community is already strong and we only grow stronger when we come together. Let’s take a night to truly celebrate that.

 Dave: Preach! Where’s my tambourine?

Lauren Spencer is an actor, activist, and teaching artist based in San Francisco.