Bright lights flood the stage illuminating an elaborate set displaying Trojan scenery. This set may look like it was ordered from a cata- logue, but it is actually the result of the different skills taught in Tyler Junior College’s theater department.
When students sign up to work on an up- coming play, they get more than they bargained for. There are many more factors involved in getting a show ready besides the skill of acting and these students get the chance to experience them all.
“You’ve got set, light, sound, make-up, props, box office and house,” Rebecca Faulds, TJC theater professor, said of the different crews involved in putting a show together.
All of these crews teach the students skills they will be able to use if they seek a career in the theater world.
One skill that a student can pick up while attending TJC is the art of costume making. Students learn how to research the mood, style and period of a show. If the costumes in a show have to look worn or stressed, they have to be handmade. This gives the students the opportunity to learn to sew and fit an actor’s measurements. There is a lot of hemming and alterations involved in this crew giving the students plenty of time for practice and improvement.
“It mainly just takes patience, but you also have to be very, very accurate in your measurement,” Faulds said of students learning basic sewing skills.
Theater students are also given the opportunity to step into their work clothes when learning different construction skills on the set crew. This crew deals with building the background scenery and set involved in the upcoming show. The students actually learn how to use a skill saw, power drill and nail gun while working in the shop. It gives the students a sense of what it is like to do physical labor.
“At first it was a little overwhelming because I didn’t even know what the basic tools were. You don’t learn that stuff in high school,” Allison Willoughby, a TJC sophomore, said. “Now, I can actually build things.”
For the first show of the year, Fall of Troy, the students were presented with a rare chance to learn the skill of blacksmithing. The props crew is in charge of anything the actor uses on- stage that isn’t a set piece. For this specific show, spears and chains needed to be made.
Jacque Shackelford, TJC theater profes- sor and head of props crew, knew who to call to help her out and it just happened to be her husband, Glenn.
“My husband, who is my part- ner in this props thing because he has so many skills that we need, has kind of taken an inter- est in this department. Over the years he has made swords, made it rain on stage for
Singing in the Rain and he built the airplane last year for Flight,” Shackelford said.
So this year the new project became blacksmithing. After classes, students could be seen gathered under the shade of a tree with Glenn Shackelford at the helm teaching a rare talent that the students could add to their repertoire.
“I think the students have thoroughly enjoyed it and they’ve learned a new skill,” Shackelford said. The different skills students learn at TJC begin to add up and look good when transferring to bigger colleges. The theater professors at TJC believe that it is beneficial for a student to begin their theater career at a junior college.
“I think particularly in the theater department you have a lot better chance of getting good roles…. It’s all very hands-on here. Everybody gets to help with everything,” Shackelford said.
Bigger universities usually use rotating crews, which only allows a certain number of people to work each show. At TJC, everybody gets an opportunity to help out on every show.
Some well-known actors even started off their careers by learning the hands-on theater knowledge offered at a junior college. According to the American Association of Community Colleges, Clint Eastwood, Morgan
Freeman and Tom Hanks all attended a junior college at the beginning of their careers. These men also share the fact that they are all Academy Award recipients.
By looking at the career of a former TJC pupil, the current students are shown just how beneficial the skills they have learned can be. Shea Whigham is one of the most successful theater students to come out of the TJC theater department. He has acted in films alongside Anthony Hopkins, Edward Norton and Colin Farrell. One of his latest acting gigs was the new HBO show Boardwalk Empire, which has been directed by Academy Award winner Martin Scorsese. His success story is a prime example of what a junior college can do for a student.
Witnessing a former student’s success has given some theater majors the determination they need and it has let them realize that not everything is beyond their reach.
“It makes me feel good about starting off at a junior college even when most aspiring actors hold themselves higher for going to prestigious acting schools,” said Willoughby. “We learn everything that the kids from those schools do but on a more personal and hands-on level…. It gives me hope.”