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April 2001

Musical Chair

Vicki Hall — in charge of Germany's rising show tunesmiths

There is definitely something magical about Vicki Hall’s working environment: a spacious high-ceilinged room on the first floor of a beautiful 19th-century villa set in a little park in the heart of Bogenhausen. The dark paneled stairwell leading up to her office is empty but from behind closed doors comes the sound of someone singing and the tinkle of a piano. If a crowd of singers were to appear at the top of the stair and serenade you, you probably wouldn’t bat an eyelid.

Given this theatrical setting it comes as no surprise to learn that Hall is the head of the Musical Department at the Bayerische Theaterakademie August Everding, which means that she is responsible for training young people to perform in musicals. This particular area of theater studies has been around for only about 15 years in Germany, but far from being cowed by the difficulties of finding suitable teachers and keeping up with the ever-expanding repertoire of musical scores, Hall, a human dynamo with twinkling dark eyes and a winning smile, brims with enthusiasm about the job.

Hailing from Texas, Hall originally trained as an opera singer, first in Austin and then in New York, and came to Germany after receiving the prestigious Rockefeller scholarship in 1970. Like so many expats, she never planned to stay for long. “I just kinda got sucked in.” she says grinning and then becomes thoughtful for a moment when she realizes that she has now been here for 30 years. After singing at opera houses all over Germany, Hall made the transition from performing to teaching in 1985, first working in Berlin and then moving to Munich, in 1996. She became head of the musical department at the academy in 1998.

One of the sources of Hall’s “headaches” is the search for pupils who are of a high enough caliber to be accepted by the academy. “Often,” she says, “prospective students can sing and act but can’t dance or vice versa. It is rare to find a real all-rounder.” This general lack of expertise was surprising to Hall, coming as she does from the United States, where children are trained for the stage from a very early age. However, if there is one thing that Hall is not, it’s defeatist. She clearly adores her students, and her affection and encouragement no doubt prepare them for the future as much as the many hours of dedicated practice required to complete the course.

Now that the musical department is up and running (and skipping and hopping and jumping) Hall has had time to turn her very considerable energies to organizing some extracurricular activities. Later this year her department is hosting the very first festival of musical departments. Schools from Britain, Germany and America will be taking part in a week-long musical bonanza, with each school presenting their own pieces. The gala will be rounded off by a special weekend show in which the international music star Leslie Caron will appear as a guest.

Refreshingly, Hall does not see her job as a mission to convert the German public into enthusiasts of the musical genre. “Theater is elitist,” she says simply, which is not to say that Hall wouldn’t like to see larger audiences at the academy’s musical productions. She bemoans the German lack of savvy in the area of publicity. “In the States,” she says, “publicity would be a total barrage, and here they just hang up a few posters and think that’s good enough.”

Apart from this and one or two other little gripes, however, the fiery Texan seems content to be living in Munich. Hall admits to spending a lot of time in the rarefied atmosphere of the theater. This and the fact that she travels a great deal means that day-to-day contact with the locals is limited. Nonetheless she counts strolls along the Isar and visits to the mountains among her favorite pastimes. Hall plans eventually to return to America. We can only hope she takes a long time getting packed.

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