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A Man With No Plan: Asheville Actor Follows Winding Life Path Back on Stage

In John Hall’s classroom at ArtSpace Charter School, in Swannanoa, there’s an equation stamped in dark capital letters high up one green wall: Vision + perseverance = impact.

Hall teaches social studies, not math, so perhaps that’s why he’s found this equation elusive in his own life. He’s pursued some things and persevered in others. They just haven’t always aligned.

“I knew I enjoyed performing. I didn’t know I wanted to try to make a living at it,” he said. “I really had no plan. I was quite happy working the odd jobs, doing the occasional acting job and going to see the Cubs at Wrigley Field. I kinda have stumbled into things in life.”

Hall portrays the artist Mark Rothko in the two-person show “Red,” on stage through Nov. 19 in the 35 Below space at Asheville Community Theater. Hall brought this project to the theater and is co-producing it with ACT.

Just getting to this place, on the precipice of opening night, is a big deal for Hall. he spent much of his 20s as what he called a hobo actor, motoring an old Ford Pinto to Nebraska, Kentucky, Virginia, Florida.

After toiling in Chicago for a few years, the lure of the mountains brought Hall to Asheville, but that was really his only compass. He worked as a janitor at Pack Place, earning 50 cents an hour less than he earned at the same time working as the “Morning Edition” host for WCQS. During this span, he formed the youth theater company, Mockingbird Theatre.

“One good thing about being a janitor at Pack Place was it gave me a key to the building, so I could go in at all hours and built sets in the loading dock,” he said. “It wasn’t unusual before show to head in at 8 p.m. and be building or painting til 2 a.m., then sleep for a few hours and come to WCQS and do the ‘Morning Edition’ shift.”

In the early 2000s, with an 18-month-old daughter, Hall and his wife divorced, and the equation of his life changed.

“Remember, I was not a business person. I was just a dumb actor,” he said, referencing the demise of his theater company, in 2000. “As soon as I was a single parent, any theater work that required evenings, I just stopped doing. Evenings were for the child.”

As Hall saw his company through its final months, a friend suggested he go into teaching. He was 38 at the time, with a young daughter, and at an age where some might consider a second career, Hall was looking at his first.

“Many people would say you have to have a calling to be a teacher. I was not called to be a teacher, but once I became one, I was able to figure out ‘What do I need to do to be good at this?’” he said.

Alex Daly (left) and John Hall in "Rothko"

At ArtSpace, the integration of the arts into everyday education resonated with Hall in a way nothing else in his life had to that point. It amplified his sense of purpose as a Christian, to build up people and community.

“I was able to transition from this is my profession to this is my life,” he said. “ArtSpace really allowed me to be the teacher I was meant to be.”

With his daughter now out of the home and on her own, Hall felt the time was right to recommit to theater. He chose to invest his time, attention and money to “Red” to play a complex character in a demanding role.

As for resurrecting his own company, Hall chuckled at the thought and fell just short of ruling it out altogether.

“Even though it’s extremely fulfilling to me and I’m at my best when I’m creating, if I felt like it’s shortchanging the kids, then no way,” he said.

Matt Peiken was BPR’s first full-time arts journalist.
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