Perched proudly at the entrance to UAHT, Hempstead Hall has been a cultural landmark in Hope for almost a decade. Built in January of 2013, the theatre and event venue has drawn crowds both to its live concerts and community events.
The crew that makes the massive building and grounds their workplace is filled with personality.
Director Amanda Lance, who took over from Hempstead’s original director Dolly Henley two and a half years ago, is a Hope native whose life has taken her in a multitude of directions. She attended UAHT back when it was known as UACCH and attained an Associates degree before transferring to Harding University. Her stay there was brief before transferring to the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, where she was a student worker in the Reynolds Center. From there, she was an events coordinator at a country club in Fort Smith, moved to Oklahoma City to be assistant director of operations for a food company serving the Oklahoma Dodgers, and finally returned to Hope three years later. After a brief time off, she took a job with UAHT as an administrative assistant, then as an advertising coordinator, then took over as director of Hempstead Hall.
“It’s a journey,” she laughed, “And you just never know where you’re going to end up.”
Assistant director John Gladden grew up in southeast Arkansas, and attended the University of Arkansas at Monticello. He worked for UAM’s Fine Arts Center as a student worker beginning in 2003 and graduated with a B.A. in Music Theater in 2009. He took over as director of the FAC in 2011, before taking the job as assistant director at Hempstead Hall in 2015.
Katherine Daniels, a native of Bodcaw, serves as technical director for Hempstead Hall. Lance says that Daniels is something of a known asset in the technical scene for the area, and that they’re lucky to have her. Daniels began working in lighting around the age of 14, and worked for Hempstead as a technical consultant for almost three years before being hired on full time as the technical director two years ago. She is expected to graduate from UAHT in the spring.
Racie Poindexter, another Bodcaw native, is an admin specialist for Industry Outreach and Community Education who recently became a full-time member of the team. She began as a student worker at Hempstead and recently graduated from UAHT.
Akili Moses Israel rounds out the team as the director of Business and Industry Relations/Community Education and Kids’ College. Akili grew up in Oakland, California, but her ancestors are from Hope and Lewisville. She bid on a piece of property and, as it happened, the property used to belong to her grandmother. Israel moved to the area a little over two years ago, having previously run a non-profit that opened up small alternative high schools, and was state director for an organization that held national career academies. After settling in the area, she took the job at UAHT.
Hempstead Hall may only have been around for a little less than a decade, but during that time they’ve built a name for themselves in the area. Community events and educational opportunities make up much of what goes on at Hempstead, though much of the public primarily knows them as a concert venue.
“The concerts get a lot of flash and glamour, people know us for that. In a normal year, we see about 60-65,000 people come through our doors. Of that number, about 12,000 at most have been for concerts. The majority of the rest are for workforce training and community events. We have board meetings and things like that, but for the most part this is a training facility. The concerts are fun…but our bread and butter comes from the community,” Lance said.
Hempstead Hall, as part of the University of Arkansas system serves as a site for plenty of educational events and activities, such as the new truck-driving program. It also serves as a resource for area schools and community events.
“We have strong ties to the local educational entities, whether Hope, Spring Hill, Blevins, etc. We have field trips out here (under non-pandemic conditions) on a fairly regular basis. FDLA’s District 5 Conference for both middle and high school, FCCLA, graduations, band competitions and concerts. Where ever you find education in the community, whether at the public schools or through community outreach and communication, we’ve got strong ties to all of that,” Gladden said.
During the pandemic, however, Lance said that they’ve worked to get the community not just to see Hempstead as a physical location, but one that is available for virtual and hybrid events as well. Through it all, however, she says that it’s the people who make Hempstead Hall a great community resource.
“The building is a great physical asset, but we try to make sure that each of the people who are facilitating all of those events are doing something to enrich the community’s life, whether it’s through education or through cultural opportunities. It really is the people that make it such a great asset,” Lance said.
The educational and industrial opportunities are overseen by Israel, who says that their mission really is giving back to the community through job training and education.
“We put on worker’s safety conferences, virtual conferencing, rural business development, proctoring examinations, workforce certification with Arkansas Workforce Development Center. There’s a lot that we either initiate or we work with employers to create opportunities for folks to get better jobs. Our job is to help the economy stability of our citizens,” Israel said.
While Lance and the Hempstead crew were thrown a curveball by COVID-19, they’ve adapted and have made livestreaming, Zoom, webinars, and just about every other type of virtual outreach a large part of what they do. Their first virtual experience was last August, when the Watermelon Festival was canceled. They saw an opportunity, Lance said, to serve the community by putting on a virtual concert with South Down Main, which is still available on Hempstead Hall’s YouTube channel. While the band played to the auditorium’s 1,600 empty seats, Gladden said, it was still a rocking show.
Riding the wave of the past year, the crew have also managed to facilitate upgrades to the auditorium, including a new sound system.
“We have a brand new state of the art sound system that we used for the first time at the Shenandoah concert. I was blown away by the improvement of it. Every seat in the building is covered now, whereas before we had a few “dead spots” in the seating. It’s very precise and a team of engineers went over it to make sure it reached every seat,” Daniels said.
Lance and Gladden agreed that the new sound system will be excellent not only for concerts, but for any future guest speakers, as well as graduations, etc. that Hempstead may host.
When asked about their favorite events and shows that have come in, the crew had varied responses. Daniels enjoyed the Temptations, which was her first show to run the lights for, and Shenandoah, because she grew up listening to their music. Lance enjoys Explore Success, where area eighth-grade students get to meet with industry and manufacturing leaders from the region, as well as the ice skaters that come in the winter. Poindexter said one of her favorites was the first event she worked there, when Bill Clinton came to speak. She also enjoys seeing local performers come to the site to show off the area’s talent. Israel agreed about Clinton, and went on to say that Kids’ College is probably her favorite event as it lets the children and parents get to know their neighbors better. Gladden said that a highlight for him was getting to work with Trace Adkins in one of the flashiest shows Hempstead’s ever held. He also enjoys working with the Master Gardeners, and has worked their state conference both here and on UAM’s campus.
The group are also looking forward to serving the community in the future. Each was excited about upcoming projects that will take Hempstead Hall through the early part of next year. Daniels said she is excited for the Glenn Miller Orchestra, coming in February of 2022. Lance is excited, she said, for whoever is brought back for the amphitheater next year. Israel is looking forward to the next Arkansas Trucking Academy (ARKTA) class in November. Poindexter says that Hempstead’s “All Things Spooky” cookie decorating class in October is what she’s currently most excited about.
As for Gladden? He’s most excited for the upcoming haunted house that Hempstead will be putting on in October. “We’ve had people of all ages come and it’s a blast. You never know who you’re going to get to scare,” he said. “I got punched in the face last year. It was great.”
Hempstead Hall can be reached at hempsteadhall.com, on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, SnapChat, and TikTok.