About Jim Hammond
Hometown: Kansas City, Kan.
Length of time in Gainesville/Hall County/Northeast Georgia: 35 years
Education: High school — Forsyth County High School, college — Brenau University, grad school — MFA from University of Louisville
Occupation: University professor and theater artist — artistic and managing director of the Gainesville Theatre Alliance
Most interesting job: The wonder of my work with GTA is that throughout my 23 years here, my most interesting job has always been the next project on the horizon — currently preparing to direct Alfred Hitchcock’s “The 39 Steps” for GTA Southern Stage in Buford.
Family information: One daughter, Amelia (25-year old actress), currently performing in “Hamlet” for Tennessee Shakespeare Company. One son, Connor (23-year old actor), currently performing in “Equus” in the MFA program at Florida Atlantic University.
Each Monday, “5 Questions” asks someone in our community to answer five questions about their lives. If you know someone who would be a good subject for this feature, send their name and contact information to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jim Hammond is artistic and managing director of the Gainesville Theatre Alliance, a collaborative ensemble of students, community members and professionals that recognizes learning and growth as its primary goal. The ensemble consists of members performing individual roles while sharing common goals. Its work in the theater is distinguished by its dedication, pride and joy. Today, The Times asks Hammond five questions about his work with GTA.
1. How did you become interested in working in the theater?
In high school, I was an athlete playing tennis, golf, basketball and soccer. I didn’t discover theater until I was 16, but I dove in completely acting and directing for a new community theater in Cumming. While I loved theater, I didn’t know it was a potential career. I was working in radio and television in Cumming, Athens, Atlanta and Gainesville while a student and thought my path was play-by-play sports broadcasting.
A friend of mine at the time, Ernie Johnson Jr., co-hosted a morning show with me at Q-105 in Athens when I was 19. It’s been wonderful following his success at TBS on the path I didn’t choose. Instead, John Jacobs Jr. brought me to Gainesville to host the morning show on Wide 107.
I transferred to Brenau to finish a journalism degree, but in 1979, Ed Cabell formed the Gainesville Theatre Alliance and my focus dramatically shifted. That was it. Ed Cabell is a brilliant man and it wasn’t long before I was looking at his work and saying at age 22, “That’s what I want to do. I want to lead a theater program very much like the Gainesville Theatre Alliance.” As I often tell my students, “Getting what you want in life is not that hard.
What’s most difficult is deciding what you want your life to be and committing to that vision.” Fortunately, that decision came early in my life and I’ve never regretted it.
2. Why do you think there is such a huge interest in the theater arts in North Georgia?
I believe the answer to that question begins with Gainesville State College (now the University of North Georgia) and Brenau University. They support the arts the way most universities support their football teams, and the result has been the creation of a nationally acclaimed theater program that has inspired young artists and audience members for more than 35 years. Add to that mix the dynamic teachers leading high school programs and visionary community leaders who invest with support and facilities like Buford’s new Sylvia Beard Theatre and you have a rich culture for theatre.
3. What goes into choosing which plays are performed by the Gainesville Theatre Alliance each year?
A great theatre should create entertaining programming that promotes a community conversation and facilitates unity, understanding and growth. I remember arguing in grad school about whether theater should entertain or educate. I always thought it was a silly argument, because theater obviously needed to do both. Some of my colleagues thought “entertainment” was a frivolous pursuit until I brought in a dictionary and read the definition of “to entertain,” which is “to hold one’s attention.” I asked them how they were going to educate without entertaining. They didn’t have an answer.
At GTA, we draw from suggestions and recommendations from our audience, our students and our faculty and staff. As artistic director, I’m ultimately responsible for setting the season, but I have a lot of help to create a tapestry of experiences that meets many needs.
In any GTA season you will find musicals (“The Producers”), comedies (“The 39 Steps”) and dramas (“A Raisin in the Sun”). You will find contemporary work (“The 7-Shot Symphony”) and classics (“Twelfth Night”). You will find ideas that comfort and ideas that challenge. Most importantly, we want you to be entertained by performances that are relevant to your life and our community.
4. Who is your favorite stage actor of all time? Why?
One of the greatest aspects of my job is that I get to share my favorite actors with my students and with you. GTA plays home to extraordinary talent, and remarkable artists come to us from across the country. Fortunately, Atlanta has a wonderful theater community and our stage has been graced by the work of Tess Kincaid, Chris Kaiser, Alan Kilpatrick and David DeVries. Two years ago, I saw the amazing work of Josh Carpenter, playing the lead in a Philadelphia production of “Henry V.” This April, you get to see this remarkable performer in “The 39 Steps.”
At GTA, we train our students to develop the characteristics of my favorite actors: a hungry mind, an impressive skill set, unfailing discipline and a generous spirit.
5. What would you like to see more of in terms of theater arts for North Georgia?
I’m currently working toward what I want to see for North Georgia, and I share this vision with many leaders in our community, such as Lessie Smithgall. We want the Lake Lanier area to become a premiere cultural destination in the Southeast. We don’t want to be the place you stop on your way to Asheville or Charleston. We want this to be the destination for thousands of visitors who come to experience extraordinary performances, beautiful gardens and art galleries and exquisite restaurants.
GTA’s contribution toward that goal increased significantly by three recent developments. First, the consolidation of Gainesville State and NGCSU to form the University of North Georgia makes the alliance with Brenau University even stronger. Secondly, our new collaboration with the city of Buford has allowed GTA to establish a professional company, Southern Stage, in the beautiful Sylvia Beard Theatre. And thirdly, Brenau University’s acquisition of the Georgia Mountains Center creates the potential of a fifth performance venue, GTA Main Street.
I have to say the future of the arts in North Georgia looks very bright, and I’m thrilled to be a part of it.