From academia to “Aida,” Justin Hall ’07 laid the foundation for his theatrical success at Lees-McRae

Since graduating as a Performing Arts Studies major with a concentration in musical theater and costume design in 2007, Bobcat alumnus Justin Hall has thrown himself head-first into the theater world.

Hall currently works full time at Averett University in Danville, Virginia as the head of the costume department, but his resume includes engagements performing, directing, and costume designing in theaters across the Southeast. This summer, Hall has taken on a new role that also fulfills a long-time dream: director and costume designer of Glow Lyric Theatre’s production of “Aida.”

“The show is based on an opera that was written by Giuseppe Verdi about a Nubian princess who was captured by an Egyptian captain in ancient Egypt, and they fall in love,” Hall said. “The version we're doing was revamped into a musical in the early 2000s by Disney and Elton John. It’s the same operatic premise, but with Elton John music and a contemporary, new millennium look at the ancient stories. There's lots of pop music, rock music, and gospel music infused into it.”

Serving as the director and costume designer of “Aida” came naturally to Hall, as he was “obsessed” with all things Egypt-related as a child and loved the show as soon as it came out. When he was approached by his friends at Glow Lyric Theatre with a directorial offer he jumped at the opportunity.

“I wanted to be King Tut as a kid because it was so fascinating to me that there was an entire history of royal people that looked like me. I became obsessed with the gilded opulence of ancient Egypt, so when the musical came out, and it was set in Egypt, I was like, ‘Oh, that's really cool,’” Hall said. “I had worked with Glow for three previous seasons just acting as a costume designer, and they always believed in me and my work. They heard about my work as a director and they really kind of took a chance on the unknown kid because it's my first time directing for this company.”

While this is his first directing role at Glow Lyric Theatre, Hall has had plenty of professional experience in the field leading up to this show. Right out of college he worked as a full-time performer before taking over as the head costume designer at a community theater in Winston-Salem. Then, almost seven years ago, academia came knocking on Hall’s door in the form of Averett University.

“It's been the best move for me because it reminds me of my time in college, because I'm now teaching at a small liberal arts college that is very akin to Lees-McRae,” Hall said. “Having that very personable connection with my students, knowing their first name, knowing if they've skipped class, or knowing if they're not feeling well, it feels very familiar to the Lees-McRae experience. I enjoy trying to be a beacon of inspiration, positivity, and support for my students.”

While pursuing a career as a professor was not always his plan, Hall said his time at Lees-McRae and the relationships he built with his professors prepared him for all the roles he has taken on in the theater world, from academia to “Aida.”

“I would not be doing what I do now without my time at Lees-McRae. With Dr. Michael Hannah, and with Dr. Tessa Carr being the heads of the costume department, they really took me under their wing during my time there,” Hall said. “I didn't know how to sew a stitch when I arrived at Lees-McRae, and they really took me in and gave me skills and saw that I had passion for what I was doing. That was integral to my time at Lees-McRae because it taught me to be the professional artisan I am today.”

Working on productions at Lees-McRae also set Hall up for success as a director. Prior to “Aida” he directed other shows at community theaters and with his students at Averett. While these experiences led him to this latest directorial opportunity, Hall said much of that groundwork was laid at Lees-McRae.

“Because Glow is a repertory company, they have people who have performed at the Met, and people who are regional opera performers that are integrated with the musical theatre folk,” Hall said. “I've been able to use the things that I learned in the directing class at Lees-McRae and apply them to these different places.”

While he points to Hannah and Carr as role models both on the stage and in the classroom, Hall believes that continued and consistent work in the field is necessary to stay on the cutting edge of theatre and see continued success as a professor.

In this way, Hall said working as director and costume designer for “Aida” will make him a better professor while, at the same time, fulfilling a childhood dream.

“The landscape of the arts is always changing. Even from the time when we had quarantine and the pandemic happened, so much in the world got turned upside down and we had time to think. We can't approach the arts, or theatre, or performance in the same ways that we did before,” Hall said. “In order to keep current, in order to keep sensitive, and also in order to be able to produce the best work that is representative of the world we live in now, you have to go out and be of the world, in the world, and see beyond the microcosm that is created in the university.”

“Aida” will be playing at Glow Lyric Theatre Friday, July 15−Saturday, July 30. There will be two 2 p.m. shows on July 17 and 23, and five 7 p.m. shows on July 15, 16, 23, 29, and 30. Tickets for all performances of the show can be purchased here.

Explore the program for “Aida”

By Maya JarrellJuly 12, 2022