The original RJR techie: Gretchen Hall


Photo provided by Harris Joyner – Hall teaches her students how to change out a Go Behind (Gobo) light.

Kennedy Clary, Staff Writer

    From working as a costumer in Old Salem to an assistant technical director at National Black Theater Festival, Gretchen Hall has come back to RJ Reynolds to teach tech once again. She grew up in the theater, so she honed her skills early on. 

    “My mother was a professional costumer, so I grew up doing costumes from the time I was like 6 or 7-years-old,” Hall said.

     Hall has been in the theater game her whole life. After costuming with her mother, Hall came to RJ Reynolds as a student focused on the arts, especially theater. During her years at RJR, she joined the tech crew. The tech crew was just an extracurricular at that point, there wasn’t an official class yet, because not enough students were interested. Once she realized there wasn’t a tech theater class for any kids in Forsyth County, she had to do something about it.

    “I started the tech theater program in Forsyth County,” Hall said. “I had a whole group of kids that were really interested in tech… and I petitioned the principal and the school board to have a tech theater class and we got it. It was the first one in the school system, and it’s grown since then.” 

    She may have only started out with 12 kids then, but now there are over 30 kids that run tech backstage for all of the RJR performances. Her students had positive things to say about her, all of them made it very clear: Hall is leading the tech department in the right direction. 

    “She knows what she is doing,” Lu Martin, RJR’s senior stage manager, said. “It feels more like a real class now, everything is filtered through her and everything is more organized.” 

    Martin is one of Hall’s most experienced tech students and has watched many different teachers fill the position. Other students who haven’t been in the tech program as long as Martin can still see how Hall is revolutionizing the tech program.

    “She’s a good leader,” Harris Joyner, a sophmore in tech theater, said. “She gets what needs to be done, done, that’s for sure.”

    Joyner knew tech was something he wanted to do when he came to RJR. He has been building anything he could get his hands on since he was little, and building the set pieces is one of the central elements of tech theater. He found out how great the tech program at RJR was through friends he has who were already part of it. In fact, his best friend Arlo Garretson did tech last year during one of the most difficult times for the tech program. Garretson worked on shows last year like The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee and the Spring Showcase, and he enjoyed it so much, he had to continue it this year. Garretson also loved the idea of having a new tech teacher this year. 

    “She is really organized,” Garretson, a sophmore in tech theater, said. “I have learned a lot under her.” 

    While it is clear her students appreciate her expertise and all she has to teach, they also are excited for the changes she is going to bring with her in the years to come. After the Covid pandemic, tech had been dwindled down to very few students who actually knew what they were doing. This meant Hall had a different job than many of the previous tech teachers, she had to rebuild the tech department from the ground up. 

    “It’s a whole new group of kids,” Hall said. “You design it around them to a certain extent. There is curriculum obviously, but my goal right now is to rebuild the tech crew in this school.We need backup. The school is helping me as much as they can. The advanced class are all going to learn how to run the lightboard. They will all learn something about the soundboard as well. I have three that can run flys and I started the year with one, so I tripled that. I even have a tenth grader in the other class that can run sound. So we are coming along now.” 

    Hall has implemented so many changes and will continue to push for so much more. One impact that not many consider about being in a tech class is the students gain an abundance of skills that can be used in the real world. There are many careers in tech, way more than most people realize. 

    “For every one actor there are four or five tech members backing them up,” Hall said. “The first class I taught there were twelve students, and half of them, so six are now out in the world and have made careers as theater technicians, and I have had many more follow after them.” 

    Hall has influenced so many students’ lives and will continue to for the rest of career. She has so much to offer and teach anyone who is willing to learn. She is the one who started this program in 1998 and she will continue to make it better and better until RJR is once again the example for what a tech theater program should be.