On April 27, 2020, actor, playwright and director Tony Hall – one of the pillars of the film and theater community in Trinidad and Tobago – died suddenly of a heart attack and left a nation heartbroken. He was 71 years old.
Hall devoted his entire life to the performing arts, wrote film and theater scripts, directed plays and movies, and often appeared on stage and on screen as an actor or speaker.
Following his BA in theater and education from the University of Alberta in 1973, he began in Canadian Community Theater; He also worked in prisons, where he created workshops for inmates using role play as a technique. A lifelong learner who enjoyed both the questions and the answers, earned a Diploma in Advanced Film and Television Production from the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology in 1980.
Both ratings helped him when he returned home and became an integral part of the pioneering group of television producers who created “Gayelle” (in this video clip he introduces his brother, Dennis “Sprangalang” Hall) to a cultural magazine type series that he began to transform the regional television landscape in the mid-1980s.
For many years, Hall was an apprentice actor and director with Nobel Prize winner Sir Derek Walcott, at the important Trinidad Theater Workshop (TTW), where he performed at the world premiere of “El burlador de Sevilla” and “O 'Babylon ”(1975-81).
I conducted a telephone interview with Bruce Paddington, one of the founders of Banyan Limited, a video producer through which Hall put his unique artistic stamp on various indigenous soap operas, drama series, and current affairs programs. In the interview, Paddington recalled that Hall was so involved in TTW that “he was commonly viewed as Walcott's heir.” He described Hall as a “quintessential artist and renaissance artist” who often produced scripts from impromptu sessions with other theater giants such as Errol Jones and Eunice Alleyne.
“He loved satire and the social chronicle,” Paddington said. “He always had absurd ideas, but he was authentic and very socially committed.” He describes the association with his colleague Errol Sitahal in the series “Gayelle” as “wonderful,” noting that Hall insisted that they approach the issues from an unexpected angle. “Therefore, Tony was doing interviews for activities like the Hindu Phagwa Festival, Paddington explained, while Sitahal, of Indian descent, presented various topics such as the Orisha religion. In Trinidad and Tobago, where the population is divided equally between people of African and Indian descent, Hall helped make the country's rich cultural diversity more inclusive and accessible to all.
Niala Maharaj, who sponsored “Gayelle” with Hall, said on Facebook:
Tony’s pursuit of truth had no room for pettiness, for jostling for stardom, for ethnic competition, pretense and pappyshow. (…) Making Gayelle was always a hunt for the unexpected twist that would flip a situation out of the mundane.
In Tony's search for truth there was no room for pettiness, to fight for fame, for ethnic competitiveness, pretense, or nonsense. Doing Gayelle was always a search for the unexpected turn that would take a situation out of the mundane.
In a career spanning five decades in various media – in his words, 'play and acting in space, on the street, on stage and on screen' – nothing that Hall worked on lacked original ideas. Some of his most recognized works performed with his LordStreet Theater Company include the acclaimed play “Jean and Dinah” (based on a famous calypso song by The Mighty Sparrow of the same name), “The Brand New Lucky Diamond Horseshoe Club” (collaboration musical with calypso singer David Rudder) and “Miss Miles, Woman of the World”, a work based on the life of the political whistleblower Gene Miles. He also co-directed the award-winning BBC / Banyan documentary “And The Dish Ran Away With The Spoon.”
Film producer Danielle Dieffenthaler has worked with Hall at Banyan since 1990 and remembers him as “the man of ideas.” “Tony's brain always worked much faster than everyone else's,” he told me on the phone. “I was always reflecting on one concept or another.”
Hall was passionate about the culture of Trinidad and Tobago, and in the 1990s, according to Dieffenthaler, he helped revive the commemoration of the Canboulay Riots, an event that led to the ritual j'ouvert, which roughly translates to “the opening of the day” and announces the official start of the annual Trinidad and Tobago Carnival celebrations. At the time, Hall was a professor at Trinity College in Connecticut and took his American students to Trinidad to experience the festival firsthand, as he always believed that education and carnival – the quintessential performing art – were closely intertwined .
However, Dieffenthaler also recalls the frustration Hall sometimes felt as a member of Trinidad and Tobago's creative sector. Despite its many successes, some of its projects were left in limbo pending adequate funding.
In a tribute posted on the Trinidad and Tobago Film Festival page, Paddington noted:
Tony played the leading role in the local film, ‘Obeah’ (1987) – initially known as ‘The Haunting of Avril’ – which was directed by Hugh Robertson (the director of the classic Trinidadian feature film, “Bim”). Unfortunately, the film is still awaiting post-production funds, and it would be a great tribute to Tony if the government or private sector would pay for the completion of this film. (…)
Tony always had great plans to complete major film projects such as a film version of his play, 'Jean and Dinah', and a major documentary on the life of (Trinidad-born civil rights advocate and Pan-Africanist) Kwame Ture. Unfortunately, I did not receive the support for these and many other worthy cultural projects which I have developed.
Tony played the lead role in the local film “Obeah” (1987) – initially known as “The Haunting of Avril” – directed by Hugh Robertson (director of the classic Trinidadian feature film “Bim”). Sadly, the film is still awaiting funding for post-production and it would be a great tribute to Tony if the government or the private sector paid for that film to be finalized. (…)
Tony always had big plans to complete his big film projects like a film based on his work “Jean and Dinah” and an important documentary about the life of Kwame Ture (Trinidadian civil rights lawyer and pan-Africanist). Unfortunately, he did not receive support for these or many other valuable cultural projects that he developed.
He was especially fond of “Yankees Gone,” the film version of “Jean and Dinah,” to which Paddington refers; He has been working on that version with Canadian filmmaker Mary Jane Gomes for more than a decade.
Through WhatsApp, he said that this collaboration was the “most rewarding work relationship of all (his) career.” “I learned so much,” he said. “Tony was a friend and a teacher, a colleague and a partner, a brother – all in one – and he will always, always be an inspiration”:
He was one of the most creative forces, and so insightful. He'd never compromise for anything he didn't believe in, but he would always embrace the journey to learn. I have lived to provoke thought. Tony represented the best of that kind of extempo wordsmithing that Trinidad is famous for; he was a master of it.
He was one of the most creative and insightful forces. He never compromised on something he didn't believe in, but he always took the journey to learn. He lived to incite thought. Tony represented the best of that kind of extemporaneous oratory for which Trinidad is famous; he was a teacher.
Furthermore, Hall helped create the Jouvay Popular Theatrical Process, a theater workshop approach based on a type of improvisation born in this extemporaneous and lyrical improvisation of calypso, along with the oral narration of stories with traditional characters from the Trinidad and regional folklore.
Her academic partner Lorna Baez explained on Facebook:
Tony always emphasized play and performance as tools for self-emancipation and as a life-organizing principle. (…) He was inspired by Garveyism in the Grand Caribbean and opening up spaces of self-discovery and introspection.
Tony always emphasized work and acting as tools for self-emancipation as the organizing principle of life (…). He was inspired by Garveyism in the Greater Caribbean and opened spaces for self-discovery and introspection.
Hall's inimitable style made its mark on members of the regional and international art community, many of whom posted their tributes on social media, especially as current stay-at-home measures by COVID-19 will prevent them from coming together to celebrate. his life.
In addition to the video tributes, there is a plan to celebrate Hall via Zoom, where her friends and colleagues can honor her memory through stories and songs.
Baez recalled it like this:
Our resilience, he once said to me, ‘is not in spite of being from the Caribbean but BECAUSE WE ARE from the Caribbean’. I honor his rebellious spirit and mind. ‘Most of us’ he once wrote, ‘have allowed all sorts of schemes to disconnect us, sometimes through no direct fault of our own. We are all born connected. There are many ways and means through play and performance in which we can allow ourselves to realize our connection to the energy of the universe. 'I am grateful to have met someone with such an elevated sense of courage, clarity and artistry. May you Rest In Peace and Power.
Once he told me that “our resistance is not despite being from the Caribbean but BECAUSE WE ARE from the Caribbean.” I honor your rebellious spirit and mind. He once wrote the “many have allowed all kinds of schemes to disconnect, sometimes without our own fault. We were all born connected. There are many ways and means through play and acting where we can allow ourselves to make our connection to the energy of the universe. ” I am grateful to have met someone with such a high sense of courage, clarity and art. May you rest in peace and power.