Monday, January 28, 2008

Couple takes the theatre program by storm

By Courtney Westlake

Having offices down the hall from each other is no doubt the closest Missy and Eric Thibodeaux-Thompson have ever worked.

As aspiring performers and then teachers, the couple struggled to remain even in the same city for years before coming to UIS to rebuild the university's theatre program from the ground up. Now, working alongside each other, they are excited about the opportunities at UIS.

Eric and Missy have both been engaged in theatrics since a young age. The couple met while attending the University of Nebraska and then married and had a daughter, Emma.

Several years ago, UIS decided to revamp its theatre program, and Eric took on the job single-handedly. Then, as it started to grow and gain interest in the community, the university hired Missy on, through her own credentials, as a second theatre faculty member.

"I always knew I really liked teaching and always knew I really liked acting and performing, and I feel like the luckiest person in the world that I get to do both," Missy said.

There are several theatre classes available at UIS currently within the Communication department. This spring, Topics in Dramatic Literature will be offered for the first time, with the topic this semester being Women Playwrights. Eventually, the Thibodeaux-Thompsons hope that the theatre program can offer a minor, and further down the road, students will be able to major in theatre.

The couple also directs performances at Studio Theatre. Recent plays include Picnic, Proof, Oedipus the King and Anton in Show Business. And on February 10 and 11, auditions are being held for Tennessee Williams' Period of Adjustment, with callbacks on February 12. Eric is directing the April production, and auditions are open to everyone.

"I love the mix of non-traditional students right alongside the traditional students; it's a nice melting pot," Eric said. "I think our audiences appreciate not having just 19 year-olds playing all the parts, and I think our 19-year-olds appreciate that too, because they can learn a lot working with very experienced people."

The Thibodeax-Thompsons said they have been more than impressed with the outreach from the theatre base in the community and the willingness of community members, UIS staff and faculty to step in, take roles and help out when they can and want to. The focus in the theatre program, though, will remain on the students.

"Through it all we really want students to remain the centerpiece of what we do," Eric said. "And I think we've been able to get more students recently because they're showing up at auditions and in the classrooms. The growth here hasn't skyrocketed, but it has been stair-casing in the right direction."

UIS also hopes to encourage students to pursue other interests in theatre, not only acting and performing but lighting, scenic design, costume design and much more. The backstage work is just as important as on-stage work, if not more, Eric said, and Missy completely agreed.

"One of the things I love so much about theatre, with no disrespect to other art forms, is that this is the only true collaborative art form," Missy said. "I can't do it by myself; I have to have other people that specialize and excel in their expertise. We see the actors and they get all the notoriety and attention, but it really is a very egalitarian process."