Hannah Hammond is not your everyday acting teacher and director.
In fact, the newly hired CU professor is a self-proclaimed “weirdo” and loves everything non-traditional. From the innovative practices in the classroom, her boisterous, happy-go-lucky attitude, and the “Badass Warrior Princess” sign on her office door, it’s clear that Hammond is not afraid to take creative risks and have fun while doing it.
“Honestly, I think I just came out of the womb singing,” Hammond said. “There was never a question about what I was doing with my life. I was just always singing and dancing and moving and making up stories. That playing pretend phase of childhood never really ended for me.”
Hammond’s dedication to theater arts is evident by her numerous educational achievements, including completion of her bachelor’s degree at Plymouth State College, her masters at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland at Glasgow, and, most recently, her MFA in Theater Performance Pedagogy at Virginia Commonwealth University.
But despite the degrees and experience teaching at two colleges prior to Castleton, she shared that she hasn’t always been so academically inclined.
“I was never really a good student. The fact that I now teach college is truly amazing to me…If you had told me I was going to educate young minds I would’ve laughed in your face,” Hammond said.
Her experience with traditional education and critical teachers inspired her to prioritize creativity and encouragement above all else.
“My training was very much like ‘here’s how so and so did it.’ Here’s how all the old dead white men did it. So I always kind of felt like I was behind, or I didn’t know what I was talking about, or I was phoning in or not a good actor because it didn’t make sense to me what I was being taught,” Hammond said.
In all of her classes, including Acting I and IV, Theater History, Plays from Castleton, and her recent role as director for “Silent Sky” and “The It Girl,” Hammond initiates unconventional and fun exercises that help actors feel the character, rather than merely playing the part.
She’ll often have actors sit knee to knee, making eye contact while reading their lines to each other to become more comfortable with vulnerability. Or have them play tag around the room before starting their scene to “keep the energy high,” as she often reminds them to do.
She also takes inspiration from meditative practices in other cultures, namely, the labyrinth.
“A labyrinth is different than a maze,” Hammond explained. “A maze has multiple ways to the center and the idea is to confuse you in getting to the center and getting out. A labyrinth specifically has one path all the way in and you take the same path all the way out.”
Labyrinths can be physically walked out or followed along on paper, the idea being to meditate on who the character is.
“Say you were working on Hamlet, how could walk the labyrinth as if you were Hamlet? What does Hamlet walk like?” she quizzed.
Hammond also wants all her students to feel confident onstage, as one of her teachers in college would constantly “brake you down to build you back up again, except she really wouldn’t bring you back up again.” She picked on things like her “bushy eyebrows” and to “do something with her hair,” wearing at her confidence in an already demanding career.
Professor of Technical Theater and Design Steven Gross commented on her connection with the students.
When evaluating Hammond for the position, “The important thing was that all the students really liked her. Out of the three [candidates], the students had the strongest connection with her,” said Gross.
Carisa Challinor, a lead character in the main stage production “Silent Sky,” added her thoughts about Hammond as the director.
“Overall, my experience in “Silent Sky” was phenomenal,” said Challinor. “Hannah helped to spark a newfound confidence in me by believing in my skills and helping me grow them.”
Hayden Hull, stage manager of the spring musical “The It Girl,” added his experience.
“Working with Hannah is very easy to do,” said Hull. “She is very understanding and kind toward those she is working with and isn’t afraid to crack a joke to lighten the atmosphere. As for her approach to directing, she is fair in her treatment of the actors, and did not get visibly upset with them over any details, so long as she did not have to repeat herself several times over.”
Hammond’s dedication to her job is all the more impressive considering she’s the mother of a 20-month-old.
“This is my first full year having a child, which is also kind of balancing the work home life thing, because that’s never been a thing I’ve had to do,” she said. “It’s all sort of like a puzzle and you have to fit it together.”
Although it can be overwhelming at times, Hammond finds so much joy in spending time with her son, Revan, and husband, Robbie, to whom she’s been married for nine years.
“We met at a small theater in Michigan,” Hammond shared. “It was my first professional job, he had just graduated from college, and we had absolutely nothing to do for four months. There were like six of us all in our 20s and one by one we all paired off. It was never supposed to last this long!” she said, laughing.
She added that if a celebrity couple had to play them, it would be Kristian Belle and Jack Shepard.
She further described Revan, saying “he’s like kind of 50/50 Robbie and 50/50 me. He’s totally one-track mind on tractors. He loves to sing and he’s super silly.”
One of her favorite ways to spend a day off is playing board games with Robbie or playing with tractors or dump trucks together with Revan.
Hammond goes on to highlight more of her favorite memories throughout the years, one of them being when she directed “Peter and the Star Catcher” when she worked at Berry College in Georgia, describing it as a “perfect storm of magic that has a really special place [in her] heart.”
Another is when she played Paulette in “Legally Blonde” at a Michigan dinner theater, simultaneously waiting tables in between acts.
Reflecting on her first semester teaching full-time at Castleton, she said she’s grateful for “being around people she can relate to” and the collaborative atmosphere.
“I think our strength is that everybody loves what they do and everybody’s excited to be there,” said Hammond. “The general attitude is that you wanna be there and wanna work together and you genuinely like each other, which is not always a thing in theater.”