R.I.P. Jay V. Hall, Stray Dog Theatre Producer Extraordinaire

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Jay V. Hall - IMAGE VIA FACEBOOK
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  • Jay V. Hall
Jay V. Hall of Stray Dog Theatre, passed away Tuesday, July 5 in an apparent suicide.

Hall's official job title was production manager, but those two words do not do justice to how essential he was to both Stray Dog and the St. Louis theater scene. Between handling PR, selling tickets, drawing up contracts, networking to find talent, laundering costumes, acquiring supplies, helping build and strike sets, and making sure every person involved in a production knew where to be and when, Hall did it all. He was the engine inside Stray Dog who, after joining the company in 2002, worked tirelessly to execute the visions of directors Gary Bell and Justin Been. No task was too big for Hall to tackle, yet no detail was too minor for him to address, and he never shied away from doing grunt work.

But even in light of his incredible work ethic, Hall will be most remembered for his big heart. Among the numerous Facebook tributes to Hall, the word that keeps recurring is “genuine.” Hall indeed was genuine. He took a sincere interest in everyone who worked at Stray Dog and went out of his way to make everyone in the building feel welcome.

In my four years as a pit musician for the theatre, I’ve seen and experienced his kindness in the form of thank you notes, Christmas cards, encouraging texts, the best hugs you can imagine and backstage gifts and food that were thoughtfully tailored to the musical we were performing. One weekend after a show, I left my wallet backstage. Hall thought nothing of turning around halfway through his drive home to unlock the theatre for me after 10 p.m. on a Saturday.

This kindness extended beyond Stray Dog. The St. Louis Theatre Circle notes in its Facebook remembrance that Hall was one of the first people to offer to help when it presented its inaugural awards ceremony. He worked at their box office and then later as part of With Love Catering when that company provided amenities for the event.

Before becoming a masterful production manager, Hall worked on stage. The program for Stray Dog’s production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch notes that the Phoenix native “went on to work professionally as a writer, producer, director and performer at many levels of visual and performing arts.” As recently as 2006, he worked with the annual St. Charles Christmas Traditions festival as the Scandinavian Santa.

The loss of Hall is incalculable. It’s impossible to imagine Stray Dog without him standing behind his podium, welcoming patrons with his megawatt smile and thanking them for attending as they exit. It’s impossible to imagine working at Stray Dog without him thoughtfully attending to everyone’s needs and whims while making sure those he gratefully helped held up their end of the bargain. As veteran Stray Dog actor Anna Skidis wrote, “How can someone so constant be gone?” Nonetheless, we were all lucky to have met him and St. Louis theater is better because of him.

Late Thursday night Stray Dog addressed the loss of their friend and collaborator with a message on Facebook. The post fearlessly confronts the truth of Jay's death and the value of his life. It reads in part:

"By giving depression and suicide a voice here, we hope that Jay and his story can help someone else, maybe save them. At the least we hope it will show that just because someone seems happy, cheerful and helpful, they may very well struggle intensely with pain and sorrow we will never know the true depths of. Keeping Jay’s suicide quiet perpetuates the stigma of it and adds a layer of unnecessary drama and secretness that will not be helpful as we all grieve him. His depression and his struggles were a part of him, as was his kindness and sweet spirit."

A memorial service is planned, but details have not been finalized. One good way to remember Jay is to go see a show and introduce yourself to your seat mates. Then smile at them and say how nice it is to meet them. Someone has to do it now that Jay is gone.

Bob McMahon is a contributing writer to the Riverfront Times and a pit musician at Stray Dog Theatre.

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