Before Mark Hallen, the theatre department of Eastern University was not one that brought about the performances Eastern has grown accustomed to – plays that have been heart-warming, thought-provoking and even controversial, but always entertaining and enlightening. The theatre department was almost nonexistent until Hallen arrived in 1992 and began to form the current program.
Hallen found himself at Eastern as the director of a play after being appointed by recent retiree Gordon Bennet. Hallen did not intend to stay but found that it was a good fit for him. Hallen designed the current theatre department using a model he took from a mentor at Wheaton College, Jim Young. At first he was skeptical about the idea.
“I wondered if it would work without Jim,” Hallen said.
Hallen gave himself 10 years to see if his new venture would be a success and he soon found that it was.
At Eastern, many know Hallen for his personality and his inspiration. It is through his encouragment and guidance that some of his former students have taken time off from their professional lives to start an acting program called “Yes! And…” This program is directed toward a wide range of people from young to old in the suburban and urban areas.
The purpose of this program is mainly exposure, be it to one another or even to new ways of looking at life. Those that join get deeply involved in the creative process of a production. They get the hands-on experience of writing, acting and directing together.
Their newest project is the production, The Clean Green Machine, an adaptation of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.
Former students Brooke Sexton and Jake Miller have had a great deal of experience working with, co-directing and orchestrating “Yes! And…” with Hallen. They describe him as their inspiration to risk and “risk big.”
With Hallen’s help, Sexton and Miller have come to find that theatre as an art form is transformative for those involved. They have put their energy into influencing the children and adolescents involved in the program, as Hallen did for them. He has helped them realize the affect that they can have on a young life that seems to be floundering.
When asked to describe his job as theatre director, Hallen said, “It’s running a small integrative, developmental, attention based program … I suppose playing a role on stage is sort of a way to come to terms with your own contradictions.”
Through the theatre department, Hallen has helped many people realize their full potential, making them thankful for their many experiences with him.