February 26, 2009 — University of Virginia drama professor LaVahn Hoh is best known nationally for his expertise as a circus historian; rightfully so, as he teaches the only accredited course in America on the circus. He is also an expert on technical theater and special effects.
In Virginia, his work supporting the study of theater at every level is legend.
At the annual conference of the Virginia Theatre Association, which supports and promotes theater arts in Virginia at all levels, Hoh received the organization's Lifetime Achievement Award for his 33 years of service.
"LaVahn is someone who cares about the arts and the high school students and fostering the arts in Virginia," said Gregory Justice, an associate professor of theater at Virginia Tech, who nominated Hoh for the honor.
"LaVahn is one of the original VTA pioneers," executive director Mary K. Molineu said. He continues to attend the association's annual conference, presenting workshops and auditioning high school seniors who plan to continue their study of theater in college, she added.
Hoh came to U.Va. in 1969 and began attending Virginia Theatre Association meetings at the urging of his then-drama department colleagues. ("Right now I have the longevity of all the faculty in U.Va.'s drama department," Hoh noted.)
Over the years he conducted numerous workshops and helped the high school students with the theater festival portion of the association's convention.
"They have high school plays that go on all day long, coupled with workshops and the college auditions where seniors stand up in front of us and do a two-minute dialogue," Hoh said.
Justice touted Hoh's devotion to sharing his love of the theater with all and constantly being on the lookout for new talent.
From the beginning, Hoh said, "I saw it as a recruiting tool."
"LaVahn has been such an outstanding ambassador for our drama program and for the University of Virginia. He's the first point of contact for almost every student who declares drama as a major, and the bonds and relationships he forges with those students at that first meeting
continue well past graduation," said Thomas Bloom, chairman of the drama department. "He's had such a positive and far-reaching impact upon hundreds of students who have passed through our program."
In addition to his educational efforts with the association, Hoh, over the years, has also conducted special effects and lighting workshops in high schools across Virginia. As a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, he wrote his master's thesis on how to create special effects. At the time, "There were no real books out there on how to create special effects. So, I essentially wrote a book," he said.
As soon as he arrived at U.Va., he began giving workshops. "I had a pretty good following of students who were coming to my workshops. What was nice is that many of them would then appear in my classes here at the University," he said.
Hoh is somewhat of a legend among high school students. Year after year, they seek out the University of Virginia table he sets up at the convention. The conversation quickly turns to special effects and something they have seen on stage or in the movies. His response is often, "Well, how would you create that?" And the dialogue begins.
He asks that same question in his special effects classes at U.Va.
The plaque Hoh received at the VTA gathering in Reston in November cites him for "significant contributions in technical theater and special effects."
Hoh said he has no intention of retiring in the near future. He was startled when Justice mentioned his 33 years of service to the organization as he presented the plaque to him.
"I had no idea," Hoh said. "You know, time flies when you are having a good time. I really enjoy … meeting all these new talents. That keeps you young. It keeps you energized."