Over the last few years, I have been fortunate enough to make the acquaintance of many talented people. I’ve worked with wonderful, creative actors; I’ve worked with brilliant, resourceful directors. I’ve even met the occasional great teacher. In Joi Hoffsommer, I am pleased to report that I have found all three. I have watched her tremendous dedication to craft from the audience and from backstage, always admiring her timing and sense of play. But as much fun as she is to watch and to act with (and for), Hoffsommer’s greatest contribution to a production is often the example she sets for other actors — especially young people. She creates a sense of calm and mentors less experienced actors, often without even knowing it. And now, as of this year, all of Ms. Hoffsommer’s talents will be brought to bear in her new position as Head of the Theatre Department at Parkland College.
I was able to speak with Hoffsommer recently, about her new job, her plans, and her first production as the new boss.
Smile Politely: Thanks for talking to me, Joi. I know you’re pretty busy these days. How is the new job treating you?
Joi Hoffsommer: It’s like most new jobs … a steep learning curve with a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel. I think I’ll get my sea legs soon. It has been fun helping to plan the new theatre space. A new black box theatre is scheduled for completion by fall of 2014. That’s pretty exciting.
SP: That is exciting. Imagine the possibilities. What is a typical day like for you?
Hoffsommer: I go in between 8:00 and 9:00 a.m. and work at answering email or returning calls and then work on paperwork for the program or the theatre. I will usually have students, faculty, or staff drop in with questions and concerns or just to talk over something. I also prep classes that I teach in the afternoons. After class I pick up where I left off from the morning.
Some days there are meetings of one kind or another. I try to leave as close to 5:00 p.m. as I can. When I am in rehearsal, I try to leave a little before that so I can get dinner and be back for the evening. When I have a night off, I sometimes get to see my son play in his jazz combo or go to the theatre or some other event, although I usually don’t go out unless I have a really good reason. Hearing my son play is a really good reason.
Sometimes I have to bring work home when there is a deadline, but I try not to when it isn’t critical. I am in the process of getting scripts read for the season selection for next year. When I really have a night OFF, I will sit with a glass of wine and relax. WOW. I just realized how boring that sounds! It’s not all that dry every day.
SP: You’ll be directing You Can’t Take It With You in the spring. How far along in that process are you?
Hoffsommer: I started studying and working on the script last spring. I have my cast and professional staff set as of last weekend. Student staff and crew will be assigned in the next couple of weeks. I’ve already had some meetings with designers and have seen ground plans and renderings of the set and drawings and ideas for costumes. Props will be very big on this show. Everyone on the professional staff is well into their own work, and we are in the construction and gathering stage. The plan for my winter break is more detailed work and organization for the start of rehearsals.
SP: What has your level of involvement been with the other productions at Parkland this season?
Hoffsommer: I helped with staffing all of them and did pop into rehearsals a few times. Then, of course, I thoroughly enjoyed sitting in the audience for both Steel Magnolias and Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind and The Actor’s Nightmare. The student production, Merely Players, was written, directed, performed, and staffed by all students. I served as the faculty advisor for that and helped with coordinating the dinner theatre aspect with our marketing coordinator and the Hospitality program at Parkland. The Hospitality director and his students set up a restaurant in a classroom and served a full meal, then we provided and served dessert and coffee at tables set up on the stage. This was a celebration for the 25th anniversary of the theatre.
SP: You’re still involved in other theater work in the Champaign-Urbana community and beyond. What other projects have you been participating in locally?
Hoffsommer: I only have the occasional weekend day or evening free now. I recently wrapped up the tail-end of work on a local film, House of Thaddeus. This was filmed through last year on weekends primarily in Danville. Mike Boedicker directed with Roselawn Productions as his production company.
I just finished a small section of the One Day Shoot project done by Champaign Movie Makers with Johnny Robinson directing. The name of that is The Famine.
I recently performed in a two-evening benefit reading for the Champaign and Urbana libraries. It was based on the works of Mark Twain and was entitled “My Books Are Like Water,” and was a joint effort of the libraries with the Station Theatre. I am a long–standing company member of the Station Theatre, and serve on their board of directors. Although the new position at Parkland Theatre supersedes my performing or working in any substantial way at the Station, I intend to keep involved in whatever small way I can. It’s possible that, in a year or two, I may be able to perform again in the summers when Parkland Theatre is dark.
SP: Do you have any other plans for the future at Parkland that you can share at this time?
Hoffsommer: The new black box theatre is the big news. There is another exciting thing happening: the Theatre program is hiring a new full–time faculty technical theatre person for next year. It will be wonderful for me to have a colleague to help with the running of the program and the theatre.
My overall goals are to try to maintain the successful theatre that my predecessor Randi Hard developed in her tenure at Parkland and to continue to strive to make the theatre and the program serve the new students coming in and the faithful audiences that have supported Parkland Theatre through the years. It’s a tall order, but that is what is on my plate, so that is what I am aiming for every day.