Interview: Margo Hall of NOLLYWOOD DREAMS at San Francisco Playhouse Thinks We Could All Use a Good Laugh These Days

Hall directs Jocelyn Bioh's rollicking comedy September 28th to November 4th

By: Sep. 25, 2023
Interview: Margo Hall of NOLLYWOOD DREAMS at San Francisco Playhouse Thinks We Could All Use a Good Laugh These Days
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Interview: Margo Hall of NOLLYWOOD DREAMS at San Francisco Playhouse Thinks We Could All Use a Good Laugh These Days
           Margo Hall, director of Nollywood Dreams
                          at San Francisco Playhouse
                (photo by Lisa Keating Photography)

Margo Hall really wanted to direct a comedy. The Bay Area theater veteran is well known for directing and acting in heavier fare, but right now she just felt we could all use a good laugh. So when San Francisco Playhouse Artistic Director Bill English floated the idea of her helming the West Coast premiere of the hilarious Nollywood Dreams to open the company’s 2023-24 season, Hall leapt at the chance. Written by the red-hot Ghanaian-American writer/performer Jocelyn Bioh (whose Jaja’s African Hair Braiding opens on Broadway next week), Nollywood Dreams combines sharp wit with a big heart. The rollicking comedy spotlights the 1990s explosion of Nigeria’s film industry Nollywood, which churned out films as the country contended with economic and political turmoil. An aspiring ingenue yearns for the glamor of movie stardom and lands an audition with Nollywood’s hottest director. Between cat fights with the resident diva, igniting sparks with Nigeria’s “Sexiest Man Born,” and talk show appearances with the Oprah of Lagos, she dreams of leaving her travel agency job behind for a thrilling life in the movies.

Nollywood Dreams marks Hall’s return to San Francisco Playhouse where she previously directed [hieroglyph], BarbecueRed Velvet and The Story. Her other directing credits include In the Evening by the Moonlight and Thurgood for Lorraine Hansberry Theatre where she serves as Artistic Director. She is a founding member of Campo Santo and has directed, performed, and collaborated on new plays with celebrated artists such as Naomi Iizuka, Jessica Hagedorn, Phillip Kan Gotanda, and Octavio Solis. She debuted as a director with the World Premiere of Joyride, from the novel Grand Avenue by Greg Sarris, for Campo Santo. That production won the Critics Circle Award and SF Weekly Black Box Award for Best Director.

I spoke with Hall by phone last week as she was actually looking forward to tech’ing the show since rehearsals had been going so smoothly. As she put it to me, “Everyone is having a good time and working hard, and we’re gonna be way ahead of schedule by tech.” We talked about what drew her to this play, how she brought herself and the cast up to speed on Nollywood culture, and her exciting plans for Lorraine Hansberry Theatre this coming season. In conversation, Hall radiates a compelling mix of joy, confidence and tranquility. Despite her impressive resume, she is not someone to rest on her laurels and always seems most excited about the work that still lies ahead. The following has been condensed and lightly edited for clarity.

What drew you to this particular play? What made you want to direct it?

Bill [English] sent me this play a while ago with a few other plays. He normally will send me two or three and say, “Read these, tell me what you think, we want you in this season.” I do a lot of hardcore stuff and serious stuff and I was like “Oh, I really want to do a comedy.” So I was drawn to this, and when I was reading it, I could see it. Sometimes that’s how I know that it’s a project I really want to do, cause I start to visualize every little moment.

I’m so happy that this is a comedy because I feel like I could really use one right now.

Yes, I feel the same. I was really drawn to the story, the young wannabe actress trying to fulfill her dreams, and also the whole idea of Nollywood. I had watched a couple modern day Nollywood films and a couple of Nigerian TV shows so I started thinking about the concept of these films in the 90s. It was the early times when they first started this industry so things were crazy and clunky and the lighting was bad and the sound was bad. And so I was like “How fun is that?” to be a part of this industry when it started, and the young actress who works in a travel agency who wants to be a star, and the returning star who went to America and didn’t quite fare well and is coming back to Nigeria. The story was fun just thinking about it, and then interesting to be able to dive into all of this research about this flourishing industry.

I’ll admit that I’m not that familiar with Nollywood. How did you approach doing the research?

Well, one of the first things I did is I got consultants. I reached out to folks who were Nigerian or very familiar with the culture, and then we have a dramaturg that did a lot of the “research research,” going online and finding all of that. Most of my time was spent just talking to Rotimi Agbabiaka, who I had just worked with in In the Evening by the Moonlight. I said, “Hey, would you want to come on as a consultant, and talk about Nigeria, talk about your life?” And then I also got a costume consultant [Nreiruka Oruche] to work with our costume designer [Jasmine Williams]. That’s really helping us say, “Uh, no, that’s not Nigerian.” Cause we really want to get it right, first of all. Get it from the folks who live it!

So that was where I started and then I watched Nollywood movies, and we’ve just been spending time building that world and really trying to dive into the culture. I also watched interviews with Jocelyn Bioh. She talked about the history of the journey of the play and how no one really wanted to do it initially, nobody was understanding it. It took her years to get someone on board and once she found the right director they made it happen. So just listening to her speak on the play and how important the play is to her, was also a part of the research.

Bioh is such an in-demand playwright right now, what with her Jaja’s African Braiding about to open on Broadway. What do you especially love about her writing?

I think that Jocelyn really gets character. Just like her other show, School Girls: or, The African Mean Girls Play that almost went up at Berkeley Rep and got shut down [due to COVID]. I got to see the last preview right before they shut it down. I just think she really gets character and I love that she expands our knowledge about Nigeria. In her interviews she was like “People just think of Nigeria as this war-torn country where everyone is looting and killing, but we have a very vibrant community.” And I’m like “Yeah, we need to tell the stories that aren’t told.” She expands our knowledge into the African diaspora, and she does it so well and so clear, and with heart, with laughter.

I just think all of her stuff, from the musical Goddess (which I also saw and is gorgeous and beautiful) to this comedy Nollywood Dreams has a voice that we don’t have in our community right now. It’s really exciting to get to see something that comes from an authentic voice, you know?

Interview: Margo Hall of NOLLYWOOD DREAMS at San Francisco Playhouse Thinks We Could All Use a Good Laugh These Days
L to R: Angel Adedokun as aspiring ingenue Ayamma,
​​​​Jordan Covington as Nollywood heartthrob Wale and Anna Marie Sharpe as resident diva Fayola in San Francisco Playhouse's Nollywood Dreams
(photo by Jessica Palopoli)

You’ve been such a force in Bay Area theater for such a long time that it seems like you must already know pretty much everybody. Had you worked with any of your cast members before?

Yes! Tre’Vonne Bell I just worked with in Josephine’s Feast, and also he came in as a guest artist at UC Berkeley, cause I also teach there. I directed Tarrell McCraney’s In the Red and Brown Water and I brought Tre in as a guest artist. And I acted with Tre as well at Aurora Theatre, Exit Strategy in 2019. Anna Sharpe was actually one of my students from UC Berkeley, and she played the best friend in [hieroglyph].

The other four actors I’ve not worked with but know all of them so it was really exciting to gather all of them together. The young man who plays the “Sexiest Man Born” is Jordan Covington. I did a workshop where I did some coaching with Jordan and a group of young actors, so I’ve always had an eye out for him. When I hosted the TBA’s [Theatre Bay Area Awards] they had me up there dancing and singing and all of that fun stuff. Jordan was one of the dancers, so when I was thinking of this role I was like “What about Jordan?” It was really great to reconnect with him and he’s really fantastic as Wale Owusu.

Angel Adedeokun is someone I’ve always admired, and she does a lot of work with Shotgun Players. She was just recently in their Great Comet, she was in their Passing Strange and she’s kind of been a mentee of mine for the last couple of years. She’s Nigerian so when I first started reading this she popped in my head and I was like “Oh, she’d be a wonderful Ayama.”

Brittany Sims is new to me, but I’ve seen her perform. It was really exciting to see her audition cause I had never really gotten to know her as well as I know the others, and I was like “Wow, she’s really funny!” And then there’s Taneka Baptiste who plays the talk show host, Adenikeh. I’ve seen Taneka perform and we’ve always been “Oh, we have to work together.” I actually offered her the role early on once I decided to do the play.

Your set designer is Bill English, who is San Francisco Playhouse’s Artistic Director. What is it like collaborating with him?

The first time we worked together is when I directed Barbecue [in 2017] and it was great, and I’ve liked his set designs over the years. Another show I directed at San Francisco Playhouse, Red Velvet, Bill’s brother designed so I’m like “I can’t get away from you guys!” [laughs] But it was funny because Bill said when we were talking about designers, “Well, who would you like to have for a set designer?” And I said, “You!” He said, “Me?” And I said, “Yeah, we did it before, let’s do it again!” We collaborate really well.

Interview: Margo Hall of NOLLYWOOD DREAMS at San Francisco Playhouse Thinks We Could All Use a Good Laugh These Days
           Director-Actor-Artistic Director Margo Hall
               (photo by Lisa Keating Photography)

I couldn’t end this interview without asking about your “day job.” How have things been going at Lorraine Hansberry Theatre?

It’s been really, really going well. We’re officially launching a season this year, but normally we do two shows a year and two collaborations at MOAD, the Museum of the African Diaspora. Our last production of In the Evening by the Moonlight was a beautiful show and a huge success for us. It’s a play that I co-created with a writer out of New York, Traci Tolmaire, and we had been working on the play over two and a half years. It was a world premiere, and to have the icons of James Baldwin, Nina Simone and Lorraine Hansberry on the stage was incredible. It was a big play for us. We had a beautiful, huge set and a lot of really great and fun and important people came to the show.

We are now launching our next season. We’re going to deal with Black women’s mental and physical health in our productions. We’re diving into that world and working hopefully with vendors and offering healing and massages and all kinds of things to try to speak about healing and rest in our community.

I came on board with a mission of working with all Black female or fem-identified playwrights, and trying to do plays that feature female artists, so that’s been successful and I’m really happy about that. Going into this next season we have a lot to offer our young Black female artists, and I’m finally getting off the ground my New Black Voices, a mentorship for emerging Black female and fem-identified playwrights where they will be mentored by some of our established playwrights like Dominique Morisseau, Lisa B. Thompson and Nambi E. Kelley.

Luckily, all of these folks I know and have worked with. We have [identified] our first Black Voices mentee, but we haven’t made the announcement yet. So that’s happening and I’m seeing a lot of the things I envisioned for Lorraine Hansberry Theatre coming to fruition. I have a busy life, but a good one!

Nollywood Dreams will perform September 28 – November 4, 2023 at San Francisco Playhouse, 450 Post Street. For tickets and more information, visit or call the box office at 415-677-9596.


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