STEPHEN HEMELT — Performing Arts Center naming honors legacy of impactful Jeff Hattman

Published 12:20 am Saturday, April 29, 2023

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Melissa Hattman’s first recollections are being with her mom, Jeff, and dad, Sam.

Those memories also routinely revolved around the Orange County theater scene, which her mom led.

She remembers a time when plays were held on the Anderson Elementary School stage, where she would watch and listen from the balcony.

“I don’t remember a time when (my parents) weren’t ever involved in theater,” Melissa said.

“Mom was a lifetime educator. She taught all grade levels. I remember when she first started teaching in the high schools. She was so involved and did full plays with the high school. She coached and judged all the interscholastic league one-act competitions. I remember her making many trips to Austin because many of her one-act plays made it all the way through to state. That is when I began to realize she was a force to be reckoned with in theater.”

She was a force, and the impact lives on. Johnnie Faye Jeff Hattman died May 3, 2012, at the age of 88.

Today, members of the Orange Community Players, a group she once helped lead, are working to refurbish the old movie theater on Bowling Lane in Orange. Their goal is to rename the renovated structure the “Jeff Hattman Center for Performing Arts.”

Orange Community Players President Paul Burch said the renovation effort is “a big huge step” forward for a community that has supported local theater for 75 years.

The best part of the new venue is the potential for all types of presentations.

“If we are not using the black box theater for a show, we’ll be able to use it for an event center,” Burch said. “We have enough property outside that we will be able to have our own Art in the Park. We have all kinds of things we will be able to do. We can even have our movie night for children set up in the black box theater. There is going to be so much that we are going to be able to offer to the community that we didn’t get to offer when we were on our Division Street location.”

Melissa said her mom was directing a majority of the Orange County Players musicals in her later years, which allowed her to impact and mentor countless generations, some of who went on to professional careers in the arts.

“I would always come to town for her productions anytime I could,” she said. “I kept up with the theater, and many of the people there are good friends of mine.”

She said Jeff would not have ever expected a theater or venue to be named in her honor, but she finds it a fitting tribute.

“That was my mom’s vision that there would be a legacy there and, clearly, by wanting to name the performing arts center for her, it is a huge tribute to that legacy,” Melissa said. “It continues to surprise me when I come to Orange. She is deeply entrenched in the community still. A lot of people are still telling stories about OCP. She was on the OCP Board for 62 years. Those are some pretty deep roots.

“It’s pretty amazing to me as the daughter and only child to see that is still the case. I know she would be beyond herself.”

Those interested in helping can visit Orange Community Players on Facebook, which has a place to make donations.

A major campaign is starting soon called the Lobby Club. There will be a place where contributors can have $1,000 donors, $500 donors and $250 donors.

Stephen Hemelt is the publisher at Orange Newsmedia, which produces the Orange Leader, and Orange Living Magazine. He can be reached at