LaVahn Hoh to retire after 46 years with Department of Drama


Former Drama Department Chair Taught The Only College-Accredited Course in America on the History of the Circus And Is Known For Expertise in Technical Theatre and Special Effects

CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA – May 4, 2015 – One of the most talented, popular, and colorful professors on the University of Virginia Grounds is heading for the finale of an extraordinary 46-year career.

LaVahn Hoh earned his M.F.A. from the University of Wisconsin and his M.A. from the University of Illinois. He arrived at the University in 1969 after stints at Northern Illinois University and the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. Hoh soon married his lifelong passion for the circus with his formidable teaching and research abilities by creating and teaching what still stands today as the only college-accredited course in America on the history of the circus. Hoh, who admits to having “sawdust in his veins,” is an internationally-acclaimed circus historian who has traveled the globe with circuses large and small, taught circus history, and served as an archivist for Ringling’s famed “Clown College.” He is the co-author of the acclaimed book Step Right Up! The Adventure of Circus in America, and wrote on the history of the American circus train for Indiana University Press. Hoh also wrote The History of Clowning for Microsoft’s 1998 version of Encarta and The History of the Circus for the 2001 edition of the World Book Encyclopedia.

LaVahn produced a documentary on the Clyde Beatty Circus that was screened at the Virginia Film Festival. He has appeared in several Arts and Entertainment network presentations including 200 Years of Circus in America; Dare Devils; The Flying Wallendas and The History of the Ringling Brothers. He has been featured in USA Today and in People Magazine. In 2002, Hoh was awarded a Faculty Fellowship at the Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities to develop a database on the History of the American Circus: 1793-1940.

During his more than four decades in the Drama Department, which included serving as Chair, LaVahn has shared his expertise in technical theatre and in special effects.  He is known for his use of non-traditional materials in many of his scene designs, and has created special effects for regional and university theatres around the country. He served as the Commissioner of Health and Safety for the United States Institute of Theatre Technology.

“For decades, LaVahn Hoh has brought an unrivaled level of passion, enthusiasm and pure ability to his scholarship and to the classroom at U.Va.,” said Drama Department Chair Tom Bloom. “His accomplishments speak for themselves, and I think all of us have marveled at the career and life he has crafted around a love affair with the circus that began when he was just four years old. LaVahn is an American original in the best sense of the word, and a theatre professional and scholar of the very highest order. His contributions to this department cannot be measured by any traditional means. As proud as I am to call LaVahn Hoh my colleague, I am far more proud to call him my friend.”

“I will miss this place, this work, and these people a lot,” Hoh said. “And I will especially miss the students. That is what has driven me all these years, how bright they are, and how they challenge me and keep me on my toes. U.Va. has such fabulous students and I got to meet a very small percentage of them coming through. But those I was lucky enough to meet and work with? Wow, what a group! It has truly been a wonderful ride.”

Hoh called his circus class, which he has been teaching since 1982, “an absolute joy.”

“Just this morning I went into class and the projector wasn’t working and I had left my cell phone at home. But once I started talking, we had a grand old time talking about the history of circus wagons, why they were used, how they were carved, just the whole history of it, and that is what the course is all about.”

Over his many years at U.Va., Hoh’s circus and theatre worlds collided often, to the great benefit of students and audiences alike. “I am a designer,” he said, “and I was Technical Director and built scenery and ran the scene shop from when I first arrived in 1969 to when I took over as Chair in the mid-1980’s. Somebody said to me one time that my designs were big and sort of flamboyant and colorful, and that my love of circus was coming through in the design.”

Periodically, Hoh would take his graduate technical students to Las Vegas to take in and study the sights and sounds and mechanics of Cirque du Soleil, as well as going backstage and talking to some of the technical crew. “In fact, we have several former students working at Cirque there, and it was great that I was able to put the two worlds together, because the things you learn in the theatre you can easily apply to the technical areas of Cirque du Soleil, or Ringling, or any circus you want to work with.”

There is plenty of circus in Hoh’s future, he said. “I have about 500 videotapes that need to be transposed, hundreds of slides I need to digitize, and I don’t know how many pictures. Then there is my whole circus collection to organize, which includes more than 1,400 programs.”

“I’ve got,” Hoh said with his trademark grin, “a big (top) to do list!”


(Note: LaVahn's long career with the department was profiled in The Daily Progress in a piece by David Maurer.  You can read that piece here.)


LaVahn Hoh Headshot

LaVahn Hoh

Monday, May 4, 2015