Recently TJC theatre students were visited by the writers of the next play they would be performing, “Southern Hospitality,” a comedy-of-manners set in the south that deals with similar subject matter of their earlier work.
Jessie Jones, TJC alumni Nicholas Hope and Jamie Wooten, who collaborated on the play, are all successful playwrights, producers, or screenwriters. Jones worked on the film adaptation of his own play, Kingdom Come, starring LL Cool J and Whoopi Goldberg.
Hope has written for multiple Warner Bros. sitcoms as well as Walt Disney Saturday morning cartoons. Wooten worked on TV’s ” The Golden Girls ” for many seasons before beginning a collaboration with Hope and Jones that has produced eight different plays, all set in the south and deal with the intricacies and frequent comedy of southern family relations.
“It’s a great opportunity for our students to see someone who has sat in the same chairs as them and has gone on to really thrive in an industry that’s not easy to thrive in. I think it’s inspiring to the students,” said theatre teacher and Southern Hospitality director Jacque Shackleford.
“In either New York, or L.A, depending on which one you go to, you’ll meet other people from the south trying to make it in the industry and its important that we stick together,” Jones said. “They call us the ‘ southern mafia ‘. It’s not like people on the coast think were the smartest people in the world.”
The playwrights are not the only success stories within the entertainment industry to come out of TJC.
Recently Shea Wigham has been appearing every Sunday on the HBO show Boardwalk Empire. The show is not exactly a small undertaking, being labeled since its production days as the biggest budgeted show HBO has ever tackled. Martin Scorsese, Oscar-winner and perhaps America’s greatest living director (Goodfellas, The Departed, Raging Bull), is an executive producer and directed the first episode. Whigham is not only appearing, but has a substantial role as the brother of the show’s main character. He has also received praise for his role, including a comment in the Orlando Sentinel that he “deftly displays the confusion of being in his brother’s shadow.”
Whigham has also worked side by side with some of the bigger actors of our generation. He is close friends with Colin Farrell after starring alongside him in his breakthrough role, in “Tigerland “, joining with him later in “Pride and Glory”, also starring Ed Norton.
Whigham has been singled out for praise before in press. Variety called him “endearing, and source of most of the film’s laughs” in the indie-comedy “Wristcutters”, where he stretched his acting chops to play a Russian rock star wandering through a purgatory-like afterlife for suicide cases.
“I always thought if he stays with it he might have a shot. He was playing tennis as well while I was teaching him and was a driven little guy, but at the time was somewhat unsure of what he would end up doing.”
Judson Jones, another TJC graduate, has been working off-Broadway since 2005 and will be featured on the Oct. 17 episode of Boardwalk Empire. He has also done voice-overs for many anime film translations. Shackleford said she always knew he would make it doing something. “He was just very confident, and confidence is important.”
Guitar teacher Frank Kimlicko, who has watched many of his music majors become music, band, or choir teachers at other Texas colleges, says he think TJC teachers are a big reason for future success coming out of the school.
“I think the strength of our staff is that we nurture confidence and believe in their opportunity to succeed and that goes a long way.”
Shackleford uses these examples for her students to nurture their confidence in just that way.
“I think it’s hard for people to believe someone from the small area can do it but it’s important for students to at least hear a few success stories.”
Even people from my home town of Lindale have gone on to major acting schools or modeling schools in New York and Chicago. It’s not out of reach,” theater student Brandi Thompson said.
Colt Keeney, who moved from TJC to UT- San Marcus to pursue a career in acting and music, said it’s all about networking.
“I’m trying to get my name out there as many ways as possible. My music is definitely not country but country music bars are the easiest places to get booked in the city, so I take it and I take the criticism and opinions of that audience very seriously,” said Keeney.
“I think it’s wrong for people to think they can’t do something spectacular just because their from a small town. I wouldn’t get peoples hope’s up and say that you have a good chance, but someone should not lose sight of their dreams just because there from here,” said Shackleford.
Southern Hospitality will run November 17 – 21 at TJC.