PROVIDENCE — When he was a student at Yale University in the early 1980s, Curt Columbus would travel from New Haven to Providence to see plays directed by Adrian Hall, the founding artistic director of Trinity Repertory Company.
“We’d heard about Trinity Rep, but particularly Adrian Hall,” said Columbus, now the theater’s artistic director. “He was a larger-than-life figure.”
Mr. Hall died Saturday at his home in Van, Texas, where he was born and raised. He was 95, and in his later years had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.
In 1963, a group of Rhode Islanders who, according to Columbus, wanted Providence to be “more than just a train stop,” formed a professional regional theater group and recruited Mr. Hall, who was directing plays in New York City, to be the artistic director of the company. The theatrical group began by staging plays the following year at Trinity Union Methodist Church, on Broad Street. In 1973, it moved to its present home, the Lederer Theater Center on Washington Street, which had been a vaudeville performance house known as the Emery Majestic Theater.
In 1966, with a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, Trinity Repertory established the landmark Project Discovery program, which allowed high school students from across the state to attend professional live theater for free.
“He was such an amazing director and found a way of taking scenes and shocking these high schoolers into surprise mode so they actually paid attention,” said actor Peter Gerety, who worked with Mr. Hall in Providence and in Dallas for about 20 years. “He had a theater mind that doesn’t come along very often.”
In more than 20 years with Mr. Hall at the helm, Trinity Rep grew and prospered, receiving a Tony Award in 1981 for Outstanding Regional Theater Company.
During his last six years at Trinity Repertory, which he left in 1989, Mr. Hall also served as artistic director at Dallas Theater Center in Texas. After leaving those companies, he continued directing and teaching on a freelance basis for nearly 30 years.
Part of Mr. Hall’s legacy at Trinity Rep is its annual production of “A Christmas Carol,” which he first directed and which has been staged during the holiday season for more than four decades.
Columbus called Mr. Hall a “visionary artist, not only in the way he challenged the aesthetic limits of the stage, but also in the challenging subject matter he produced as artistic director.”
“With Adrian at the helm of Trinity, from the late 1960s onward, the work onstage addressed topics that were rarely discussed in public forums at the time — the persecution of gays and lesbians, the legacy of slavery and its impact on how we deal with race in America, the limits of democracy and freedom, and so much more,” Columbus said in a statement from the theater company. “His boundary-breaking vision for the theater as a public square is the greatest legacy that he left us, one that we will continue to carry forward.”
He called his long-time friend “bawdy and hilarious.”
“I remember saying to him once, after he had left [Trinity Rep], ‘Everyone loves you in Providence.’ He said ‘They do now. They hated me when I was here. I hope they’ll hate you, too, then love you when you leave.’”
Providence Mayor Brett Smiley called Mr. Hall a “great man” and said in a prepared statement that as the founding director of Trinity Rep, “he not only shared his immense talent with our community, but also enabled countless other artists to share their gifts with the world, inspiring generations of theatergoers and putting Providence front and center as a haven for the arts.”
Mr. Hall’s survivors and plans for a memorial gathering were not immediately available.