Q&A: Hubbard Hall director gets to take stage in Shaw play

As executive director of Hubbard Hall Projects, Benjie White loves to watch the same production over
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As executive director of Hubbard Hall Projects, Benjie White loves to watch the same production over and over again, his passion for the theater never waning whether it’s opening night or the final show of the run.

For the next few weeks, however, White won’t have the opportunity to enjoy that simple pleasure and he’s fine with that. Instead of watching the current production being staged by The Theatre Company at Hubbard Hall, George Bernard Shaw’s “Heartbreak House,” White is part of the cast, playing 88-year-old Captain Shotover, a retiree from the British navy prior to World War I.

While White occasionally secures for himself a role with the theater company, most of the time he is overseeing the entire operation at Hubbard Hall, and along with the regional theater company started by Broadway veteran Kevin McGuire, that work includes a conservatory for high school and college-age actors, a dance school, visual art classes and a music series that runs the gamut from jazz to folk to world music.

A native of Cambridge, White also started the first theater company at Hubbard Hall, back in 1978 when he took over the property, formed a nonprofit corporation and reopened what was one of the most popular old opera houses in the Northeast. Before he returned to his hometown, White had been teaching at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Conn., where he got his undergraduate and graduate degrees in the theater, and at Bennington College in Vermont.

Q: Hubbard Hall closed as an opera house in the 1920s and didn’t open again until you took it over in 1978. Were you familiar with the place as a kid growing up in Cambridge?

A: When I was 5, my father asked the owner of the store beneath Hubbard Hall if he could borrow the key and show his little kid the opera house. So, he showed me around, but I had pretty much forgotten all about it after that until I was teaching at Wesleyan and heard the place was for sale.

Q: What do you remember about the reopening of Hubbard Hall?

A: I had forged a friendship with [folksinger] Jean Redpath while I was at Wesleyan. So when we first opened Hubbard Hall, she came and did a concert for us. We had some other well-known folk singers perform there, and it did really start out primarily as a music hall. But we also had a group called the Hubbard Hall players, and we’ve had a children’s theater for 25 years.

Q: What attracted you to Shaw’s “Heartbreak House,” and the character you play, Captain Shotover?

A: It’s a role I’ve wanted to play for 40 years. I’m still 20 years younger than the Captain, but being just barely on the cusp of that range I think I’m able to identify with him. He’s incredibly eccentric, and he’s incredibly frank and outspoken as you might expect in a man who’s comfortable with command and has a no-nonsense view of the world. It’s a great character and Shaw writes wonderful plays. I love his work.

Q: What do you do when you’re not at Hubbard Hall?

A: I take care of a mule who’s a wonder of science. He’s 42, and my daughter says he’s waiting for me to go first. But I’m here 80 hours a week and that’s fine because I love it. I thoroughly enjoy seeing a dozen performances of the same show. I’m fascinated by the interaction between the audience and the cast. So each performance can be different depending upon the reaction of the audience. I feel very lucky to have been able to keep this place going, and to have so much fun while we’re doing it.

Categories: Life and Arts

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