Caldwell Theatre Company co-founder Michael Hall stepped down as artistic director in 2009, and has been travelling and writing ever since. But he returned to the Caldwell in February 2011 to direct the drama Last Fall.
In an email interview Monday edited here, Hall looked back on the company and its legacy.
Q: What were the Caldwell’s achievement and its place in South Florida theater’s development?
A: When (we) began as the Caldwell Playhouse in 1975, there was little professional regional theater (in) South Florida. James Caldwell, who inspired the creation of this theater, told me it was the right time and the right place to put together a company.
From the beginning, this theater offered a variety of work to South Florida audiences and introduced period plays with period perfect sets, costumes and props, winning audiences and awards with Shaw (Candida), Somerset Maugham (Our Betters, The Circle), and Turgenev (Fortune’s Fool) also The Heiress, The Hasty Heart, The Women, etc.
We sought to create ensemble productions with a company of players, designers and technicians who worked together as a happy team. A sense of “the Caldwell Theatre family” exists today despite the loss of venue.
In the 1980’s Caldwell introduced works that caused controversy — Bent, The Elephant Man, Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill) — all of which succeeded beyond our wildest dreams, and allowed us (and future South Florida theaters) to explore the unexplored.
We hired hundreds of artists by tackling many large-cast plays. You Can’t Take It With You opened our second venue in 1980 with a cast of 18, topped by A Few Good Men in 1992 with a cast of 20. We brought Len Cariou to play Hemingway in Papa and James Joyce in Himself!, and Charles Nelson Reilly to debut his one-many Life of Reilly.
But most important, we became an artistic home for a wonderful group of actors, designers and technicians. They are the ones who miss Caldwell the most. Pat Nesbit, John Felix, Viki Boyle, Tom Wahl, Elizabeth Dimon, Peter Haig, Barbara Bradshaw, Angie Radosh, Harriet Oser, Ken Kay, Kim Cozort, on and on.
Q: What are you proudest of?
A: Again, I am proudest of my establishment of a company of players that will always remain close. I cherish the loyalty of an audience that still remember our days at the college or the old Boca Mall. Specific productions? The Middle Ages which we moved intact to Los Angeles in 1984; the 1986 summer productions of Boys in the Band and The Normal Heart playing in rotating repertory, the latter dealing with the beginning of the AIDS crisis; and Pat Nesbit knocking us out
with almost every one of the more than 40 plays she appeared in from our first season ( Ring Round the Moon in 1976) to Doubt in 2007, and my guest shot for Next Fall in 2011.
Q: Do you have any regrets? Is there anything you would have done differently, especially about the new building?
A: None. I had 34 years of work that I loved. I enjoyed an amazing number of high points. Awards are great, but personal satisfaction of productions like Sight Unseen (1993 with Pat Nesbit, Peter Bradbury, Barbara Bradshaw and John FitzGibbon) and The Laramie Project (2001 with a terrific ensemble) is what resonates with me. Regarding the new theater, had developers come through with promises, the economy not faltered, Madoff and others not frightened donors, history might be different.