Auburn Highlights

By McLaughlin, Glory | Stage Directions, June 2005 | Go to article overview

Auburn Highlights


McLaughlin, Glory, Stage Directions


Auburn University Montgomery

As interest in the dramatic arts grows in this southern city, so too does a local university's theater program.

Auburn University's Montgomery, Alabama campus houses a small but lively theater training program that's experiencing increasing popularity. Dr. Robert Gaines, who has served as the program's director for the past 28 years, attributes some of that growth to the success of the Alabama Shakespeare Festival (ASF), Montgomery's foremost performing arts organization. He believes that both students and audiences have become more interested in theater as the result of ASF's popularity and high profile in the region.

This community interest has inspired at least one gift to Auburn University Montgomery (AUM)'s School of Liberal Arts that enabled its "Theatre AUM" to stage a very special production last fall. "Through the Weil family's endowment, we were able to bring in three theater professionals to act in and direct our production of Death of a Salesman," explains Gaines. Stuart Margolin (best known for his role as Angel in the old TV series, "The Rockford Files") played Willie Loman, Wendy Phillips played Linda, and Jenny Sullivan directed the production. According to Gaines, the play was not only a huge success with audiences, but it also presented a unique opportunity for AUM students to work closely with professionals in their field.

Last year's Death of a Salesman wasn't Theatre AUM's only brush with fame. In the past, the program has welcomed professionals into its classrooms as faculty members. Many of these teachers are actors who landed in Montgomery while working with ASF and seized the opportunity to share their craft with AUM students. Recent visiting professors have included Norbert Leo Butz (currently starring in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels on Broadway), Roger Forbes (seen recently in Julius Caesar at the Stratford Ontario Festival), and Greg Thornton (currently acting with the Colorado Shakespeare Festival).

In addition to requiring students to complete certain coursework, Theatre AUM encourages them to gain professional experience of their own while in school. All students must enroll in a course called Theatre Practicum each semester, and many students seek summer internships with theater organizations around the country. The program has sent students to intern with the Texas Shakespeare Festival, West Virginia Public Theatre and the Utah Shakespearean Festival, among others. According to Gaines, this experience pays off when students graduate and seek jobs. "Many of our graduates take jobs as performers and stage managers. One graduate started his own theater, and one worked for the TV show 'Sesame Street,'" says Gaines. In addition, some students continue their studies in graduate-level theater programs.

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