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Outside the Saybrook Stage Company’s Westbrook Ambulance Association rehearsal space, Jim Hile takes a break from preparing for the upcoming production of Other Desert Cities, a play coming to The Kate Thursday to Sunday, Jan. 17 to 20. (Photo by Eric O’Connell/Harbor News | Buy This Photo)
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When Jim Hile was 21, his sister was participating in a musical called The Boyfriend. At the time, Jim was “more interested in the technical aspects of shows, such as the lighting,” than performing. You can imagine Jim’s surprise, then, when he received a call asking him to audition for the play.
He was asked him to read some lines, sing, and dance.
“Next thing I know I had a part in the show. The rest, as they say, is history,” says Jim.
Fast forward four decades, and you can still find Jim participating in theater, though he’s quick to add his days doing musicals are in the rear-view mirror.
“Most of the stuff I do is locally,” Jim says, noting that local theater doesn’t mean low standards or simple productions. “The audiences around here are very well informed.”
For about the last nine years, Jim has been acting with the Saybrook Stage Company, a non-profit corporation that puts on performances at the Katherine Hepburn Cultural Arts Center, or simply “The Kate” in local parlance.
“I’ve had so much fun. It’s just a great organization and a great venue to work in,” says Jim.
According to its website saybrookstage.org, the company welcomes actors of all abilities, and presents shows twice a year in the winter and summer.
Starting on Thursday, Jan. 17, Jim will be playing the part of patriarch Lyman Wyeth in a production of the drama Other Desert Cities. The play was written by Jon Robin Baitz, and premiered on Broadway in 2011. The play received numerous accolades, including being named a finalist for the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.
Jim says the play, which is a work of fiction, is about a conservative family from California, where Jim’s character is a former ambassador under Ronald Reagan. On Christmas Eve, an estranged daughter tells the family the book she is writing is not a novel as the family expected, but a memoir that reveals the family’s dirty laundry.
“It’s about the struggles that go with that. It’s a very deep show. It’s heart-wrenching and heartwarming,” says Jim, being careful not to reveal too much of the plot.
The play will run for four days; tickets are available both at saybrookstage.org or at The Kate’s box office located at 300 Main Street, Old Saybrook.
“It’s a very moving play and people should come see it,” says Jim.
Jim has worked with Saybrook Stage in the past, and says he’s pleased to be doing so again.
“Every production has been well received,” he says.
Jim says the normal procedure for putting on a play is there is an audition for a role, then once selected, the actors spend the next 2 ½ months rehearsing for the production before the curtain rises on opening night.
“It’s not the performances that are my favorite part, it’s the rehearsal process,” Jim explains. “It’s so much fun watching everyone go from holding a script to seeing someone walking and talking as someone they’re not.”
Jim estimates that the rehearsal process takes about 5½ weeks. Rehearsals are held in a room at the Westbrook Ambulance Association.
The Kate’s mission statement on its website states: “The Katharine Hepburn Cultural Arts Center exists to present a diverse repertoire of cultural and performing arts, to provide educational opportunities in the arts, and to be a lasting legacy for America’s iconic actress.”
Listening to Jim describe the venue, it’s clear he believes it delivers on its mission.
“It’s an absolute treasure,” Jim says. “It’s small, it’s intimate, it’s comfortable. I almost wouldn’t want to work anywhere else.”
Jim grew up in West Haven, but has been a Clinton resident for the past 33 years. Now retired, he says he likes to go play golf to relax and to go blow off steam when the weather permits. Jim also enjoys spending time with his wife Marianne and their children Greggory, Lauren, and Meredith.
For other hobbies, Jim predictably says he also enjoys going to the theater to watch shows.
“I guess I’m a boring guy,” Jim jokes.
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