On November 7, 2023 Olney Theatre Center announced the hiring of the new Senior Associate Artistic Director, Hallie Gordon. Hallie brings a passion and expertise in play development and education that will play a crucial role in the continued evolution of the organization. Having recently served as Director of Artistic Development at Kansas City Repertory Theatre, as well as Artistic Director for Steppenwolf for Young Adults at Steppenwolf Theatre, Hallie has produced, commissioned, and directed many works that have helped mold the modern American Theatre scene. Being the successful and decorated artist that she is, I could have easily made this post exclusively about her accomplishments and accolades, but instead, I wanted to use my time with Hallie to learn more about her story and journey up to this moment.
Hallie Gordon is a mother and has a family that she loves dearly. She is a dog enthusiast, having two fur babies of her own. She loves knitting, and is a huge fan of film. In fact, she has always wanted to direct a film and hopes to continue pursuing opportunities to do so. Growing up, Hallie was always surrounded by the arts. “My mom was a multi-talented artist. She was a sculptor, did macrame, sewed, and she was an interior designer.” It was on her 12th birthday where her mom would take her to see A Chorus Line. Little did Hallie know that this would be where Hallie’s “[artistic] life would really begin.” “[My mother] took me to see A Chorus Line and I loved it so much. She took me to the matinee and I made her take me back for an evening performance as well. I bought the album and I listened to it non-stop.” This experience, as well as the influence of her mother’s arts advocacy, inspired Hallie to get involved in theatre as soon as she entered High School.
As a teenager, it was clear to Hallie that she wanted to become an actor. “For me, as it is for a lot of people who are involved in theater, we didn't really have a kind of drama class per se, but we did have a club that I became a part of.” Realizing that she wasn’t really gravitating towards anything academic in school but knowing she wanted to go away to college, she began looking at acting programs out of state. “Being raised in Los Angeles, I didn't have the stomach for the pressure of trying to be an actor in that city. So, I decided to go to a liberal arts school, but major in theater and acting.” This decision led her to leaving LA and moving across the county to New York, where she would attend the New School for Social Research undergrad in New York.
For the first couple of years of study, Hallie continued her training as an actor. It was not until she came across directing that she would truly feel, “grounded as an artist”. The first show she directed was Coyote Ugly by Lynn Seifert, produced by a company Hallie founded under the school’s umbrella called the Atrium Theatre Company. Many of Hallie’s friends and collaborators at this time were from the Chicago area and were planning on starting a theatre company of their own back home. “My friends from Chicago said, ‘Hey, we're gonna move back to Chicago and start a theater company. Why don't you come with us?’ And so I said I would.” Having never seen Chicago before, Hallie moved to the city and helped create this new company, Pillar Studio.
With this newfound company, Hallie got the opportunity to direct Coyote Ugly again, this time for a new market and audience base. This is where Hallie’s connection to the world-renowned Steppenwolf Theatre Company would form. See, it just so happens Coyote Ugly was one of the plays that put Steppenwolf Theater on the map, and since award-winning actress Laurie Metcalf was in the production. a lot of people from Steppenwolf came to see the play. From that moment on, Hallie would spend many years with the company directing some of the best actors and producing some of the best plays in modern theatre, forging her leading reputation and career in the industry.
Though an incredibly gifted artist and tremendously kind human being, getting the opportunities to do the types of work that interested Hallie was not an easy task, being a woman in the industry. “I felt somewhat isolated. There weren't a lot of women in lead artistic positions , and if there were, they weren't entirely supportive of each other. We’ve turned a corner now where women support each other and look out for each other. I don't think it was always like that.” One Artistic Leader who Hallie was able to find support in was the late Martha Lavey, Artistic Director of Steppenwolf from 1995-2015. “[Martha’s] notes to me early on as a director really crafted my way of thinking about directing and storytelling. She's one of the smartest women I've ever had the privilege of meeting. And so I would say, she definitely had a huge influence on me, and the work that I did at Steppenwolf and the work that I hope to continue to do.”
One of the big reasons Hallie is excited to be joining Olney Theatre Center is Olney’s reputation as a “teaching theatre”:
“Much like in the old days where apprentices really learned a craft and a skill, you would have a mentor that would show you and you would carry that on. I think there's something super exciting about getting real world, professional experience as hard as it can be. I think that's really, really exciting. And I think there are so many possibilities that come with that. Also, I think there's a great amount of responsibility that comes with that and I'm excited for Olney to really dig their feet in and create an environment in which there can be a new group of Artisans that we have helped support and bring up through this process.”
Though an exciting time for the organization, there are real, industry-wide challenges that COVID has presented. Like many, Hallie is actively exploring solutions to these challenges, but acknowledges that nothing is going to occur overnight. “I want to know how to get audiences to come back to us. People are not going back the way they used to, you know, they're streaming everything from the couch, movie theatres are having similar challenges,I'm fascinated and really interested in thinking about what/how to get people to be together again experiencing live theatre. There's so many things that we've tried to get our audience back, because of the pandemic, but until we actually get new audiences into the theater, we will be struggling and I'm not quite sure what that recipe is yet.”
Though an unprecedented time for Olney Theatre Center, Hallie’s arrival comes with a lot of optimism and excitement around the possibilities for the organization. Her impact on programming and operations positively radiates through the halls, and her empathy, energy, and passion are felt by everyone who has had the chance to talk with her. As Martha Lavey told Hallie while directing Lydia Diamond’s Bluest Eye, “you have to bring the story forward.” I think it is fair to say that when your company brings in the likes of Hallie Gordon, you are setting yourself up to do that very thing in as successful a way as possible for many years to come.