It’s been a long stage journey for a once introverted seventh-grader, freshly arrived in San Diego from Clinton, Iowa, who was pushed into a drama class as part of a middle-school humanities requirement. Now, the actress and passionate theater devotee Lisa Hale is also a major benefactor of Laguna Playhouse, where she also serves as a trustee.
“I was a shy little bookworm in seventh grade who would barely say her whole name and I dreaded the class. But then a whole world opened up,” recalled Hale.
“I learned that when I was up there on stage it was not really me; it was all about the character. It was the most remarkably freeing feeling I had ever experienced. After that it was off to the races.”
“King of the Road,” “Hair Spray,” the current show, “A Night with Janis Joplin” and the upcoming “Twelve Angry Men,” are Laguna Playhouse productions underwritten by Hale at a cost of $250,000.
Her devotion to the Playhouse began as a ticketholder. She saw shows while living in Laguna Beach and attending UC Irvine, where she studied drama with, among others, founding department chair, director and author Robert Cohen. She earned her bachelor of arts degree in drama in 1985.
Shyness conquered, she once earned summer cash by delivering singing telegrams. “That job was the most fascinating study in human behavior. You had to be open to any experience, to be quick on your feet, handle things gracefully without offending anyone,” she recalled. Hale also seriously pursued becoming a flight attendant. “The whole airline interviewing process is like doing an audition,” she remarked.
She deployed her people skills coordinating human resources as a partner at the Laguna Hills-based Parallax Capital Partners, LLC, a private equity firm that invests in intellectual property.
During the late ‘80s, she began working on and off stage at the Playhouse Youth Theater, acting in “Winnie the Pooh” among other shows. This spring she played the Wicked Witch in “The Wizard of Oz.”
“Watching the kids grow is an amazing benefit,” said the Newport Beach resident. “When they are not on stage, they are working light boards, props and manage the stage. Even if they’re not burning to go to Broadway, the skill set they develop can be useful in any walk of life, she said.
Youth Theatre director Donna Inglima describes Hale, a mother of three children, as a passionate advocate for young actors. “It is a great pleasure to work with Lisa artistically as well as board member to staff. She is smart, direct and cuts to the chase quickly. She’s also a wonderful actress,” she said.
By her estimation, Hale participated in roughly 50 Playhouse productions.
In 2015 she starred as the breast cancer victim (during in the first week) in Nora Ephron’s “Love, Loss & What I Wore.”
Although one might think a major donor could influence how that money is spent, Hale set broad terms for her gift. “The only stipulation was that the money went into each and every show,” she said. She added that she expressed no preference by genre. She’s a theater omnivore, entranced by dramas as much as musicals.
She saw “Hairspray” four times, profusely praised Hershey Felder’s embodiment of Russian composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky and the production of “Louis & Keely ‘Live’ at the Sahara.”
Her underwriting for “King of the Road,” which starred actor Jesse Johnson and was directed by Andy Barnicle, allowed the music director a longer than usual rehearsal time of three or four days, she said. Her gift also paid union scale for Equity actors.
She adamantly refuses involvement in artistic choices, leaving the to Playhouse artistic director Ann E. Wareham and executive director Ellen Richard.
Hale helped select Richard after the departure of Karen Wood. “Lisa has no influence on programming,” Richard said. “We talked about what we wanted to produce, but just to share. Yes, she is more excited about some shows than others, but then everyone has a show they especially look forward to,” said Richard.
For theater, struggling to pay the bills with a subscription base that is shrinking, Hale’s gift will change the production values of Playhouse productions.
“With the infusion that Lisa gave us this year, we were able to bring ‘Hairspray,’ our biggest show, and now ‘A Night with Janis Joplin,’ with a huge cast and high-end band,” said Richard. Underwriting helps pay the actors’ salaries and housing costs, which are substantial.
“Our first and foremost need is substantial investment in our core product, what we put on stage, and I saw a need for an elevated season,” said Hale. “We have to give our community the kind of theater we are capable of and we are on a trajectory going up.”