African-American themes on stage
Shawn D. Hall portrayals of African-American family life are rooted in the stories of his parents and grandparents, as well as in his own childhood in Springfield.
“For me,” recalls the 31-year-old playwriter and screenwriter, “Springfield is hot summers and foggy autumns and winters, and also the fact that it’s flat and surrounded by farm land. At times the fog shrouds the whole city all day long and all night long, and creates this strange surreal atmosphere”.
“Some of my early childhood memories are of my father, who loved to go out fishing in the delta, or duck hunting in autumn. He would drive out into the fog and disappear and come back again with these ducks,” Hall says.
“He was also the last of the old-style country doctors. People would come to his office; they wouldn’t have an appointment. He serviced a lot of the African-American population, going out to the farmers in the delta. All night long, my father would get phone calls. I’d hear him getting up, and he’d grab his black bag and my mother sometimes would get up and make him a cup of coffee, and he would go. And when I’d get up he’d be coming in, sometimes with a crate of tomatoes or a gunnysack of corn”.
“That was Springfield for me. You could go to the outskirts, and these fields would go on and on. Sometimes you’d smell the air—the sour-sweet smell of rotting fruit would just waft over the town.”
Such images resonate in Hall’s plays, which have been widely produced on stage and television in the past decade, earning him Arts fellowships, three playwriting awards, and most recently, the Mary McLaughlin Reader’s Digest Writer’s Award.
Hall, however, did not set out to be a writer. “It was all by accident”, he explains, from the dining room of his Corner Street home in Durant. In fact, back in the 1970s, he started out as a musician, playing guitar and singing in rock bands.
“We were big fans of the Kinks”, recalls Hall, who with his prominent earring and rock hairdo, still maintains somewhat of a stage persona. “We were a garage band. The neighbors complained, called the police — the usual stories. Then after I got out of college, I tried to make it as a singer/songwriter in Los Angeles”.
Despite his disappointment, we are happy that Shawn became a writer, as we now can enjoy his plays in the local theater.