Clemson, Warehouse Theatre offer students and faculty a place to grow
More than 30 miles separate Greenville’s Warehouse Theatre from Clemson’s theatre department, but the two are close partners. Clemson students and faculty have found a professional artistic home in one of the Upstate’s most prominent and innovative theatres.
This season, the Warehouse has hosted 20 Clemson faculty, staff, students, and alumni as actors, designers, directors, and production staff members.
Jason D. Johnson has witnessed the impact of this exchange firsthand. Having begun his association with Warehouse by serving in the Journeyman program in 2001, Johnson would become Marketing Director in 2014 before taking over as Managing Director in early 2017. “Having that talent here has been tremendous,” he said of Clemson personnel. “When we are putting together a season, we know there are some shows that specific members of the Clemson theatre faculty would be perfect for.”
An increase in student participation has dovetailed with Warehouse’s goal to produce the best possible theatre while nurturing both established theatre practitioners and young professionals. “Giving them the opportunity to get onstage and enable their careers through professional development is part of the mission,” Johnson said.
But the relationship between the theatre department and Warehouse extends far longer than the past few years.
Chip Egan moved to Clemson in 1976, after receiving a Master of Fine Arts in scenography from Northwestern University, to become the designer and technical director for the University’s small theatre program within the English department. He was hired to design the sets, lights, and costumes for Clemson Players productions. “It was a little overwhelming,” he said. “There was only one other theatre faculty member at that time.”
He visited the Warehouse, founded just two years before, while scouting local theatres. “I can remember it to this day,” he says of the first play he saw there. “It was a production of Streamers by David Rabe, a Vietnam War play: It’s very realistic, really gritty, and takes place in a barracks. It was just a wonderful production, it was excellent, and I thought, ‘Wow, this is a good theatre.’ So I made it an objective of mine to get in there as a director.”
Egan later wrote to the theatre, and, a few months later, the founding artistic director, Peter Smith, offered him a production of Robert Patrick’s Kennedy’s Children to direct in 1981. After raising a family in the 1980s, he returned to the Warehouse in 1992, and has since worked there as an actor or director on one to two productions every year.
Clemson faculty designers and directors would become mainstays at the Warehouse and eventually pave the way for students. Currently, almost all theatre faculty have worked in some capacity at the Warehouse. “Faculty, as part of their teaching and research responsibilities, started taking students to work with them and learn about working in professional theatre,” Egan said. “That’s evolved into a really active exchange of student and faculty talent. How many colleges can point to that kind of association with a professional theatre? It’s such a great extension of the classroom, only 30 miles away, to have a professional theatre that is so eager to use the students and be a part of their learning experience. They go over there and they demonstrate themselves to be responsible, punctual, professional, and have all the qualities that professional theatres rely upon. Making theatre is a crazy creative act, and the more discipline you have surrounding that craziness, the better. Clemson students are really good at that.”
In his career at Clemson, Egan would serve as chair or interim chair for several departments (including the Department of Performing Arts), as well as the Dean of the College of Architecture, Arts and Humanities. Recently, he served as Interim Artistic Director for the Warehouse before Mike Sablone was hired for the permanent position. As such, he attended rehearsals, sat in on some auditions, and acted as an “artistic collaborator” with the directors to help guide the process. “You are bringing a new perspective, fresh eyes, fresh ears, to the rehearsal hall,” he said, “and you can see things that the actors or director may not be aware of.”
As a designer, director, and actor, Egan is emblematic of the performing arts curriculum at Clemson. “I’m the kind of theatre student that Clemson produces,” he said. “There was nothing about theatre that I didn’t find interesting. I was just curious about every aspect of it.”
Forty years later, another young, well-rounded theatre professional has found a place at the Warehouse. Performing arts major Jonathan Bull ’17 was named the theatre’s Interim Technical Director in December of 2016.
Bull, originally from Roswell, Georgia, entered Clemson as a theatre student with an emphasis in acting. He made performance his focus during his first year, but soon found himself working on the Brooks Center technical crew over the summer building sets. Eventually, Bull began working on almost every performance as a technician.
“I didn’t do a lot of technical work in high school, but I did work on some of the sets,” he said. “I’ve always liked the gratification of building something with your hands. I loved seeing other actors on the sets I built, or acting myself on sets that I’ve built. I think it’s challenging, which I like a lot.”
For someone who enjoys performing as well as working behind the scenes, Clemson was a great fit. “What I love most about this program,” Bull said, “is that I came in as an actor, only prepared to focus on acting. But now, four years later, I’m graduating and will have an interim job as a technical director at a professional theatre. And I think that speaks a lot to Clemson’s performing arts program: I love that I’ve gotten to act in shows and build the sets for them. I’ve been able to work in the Brooks Center with touring shows and meet people who have traveled all over the world doing theatre. I don’t think I would have been happier anywhere else, because at another school, I’d only be trained in acting and I wouldn’t know how to do anything else. I don’t think you appreciate the full spectrum of what’s going on behind you when you just focus on acting.”
For the past two summers, Jonathan worked at Chautauqua Theater Company in New York as a carpenter, as well as the South Carolina Governor’s School for the Arts & Humanities and venues in the Upstate. Bull often accompanies Clemson’s Technical Director, Matt Leckenbusch, on commercial film shoots, helping build sets for tool commercials.
As interim technical director, Bull will build sets to the specifications of the designers and see that those projects are completed within the given budget. He will ensure the safety and sturdiness of the structures he creates, install seating for audiences, and make sure stage lights are hung.
Bull completed his undergraduate coursework, but will wait to graduate with his fellow classmates in May 2017. He is one of the latest in a long line of theatre students and faculty who have bridged the gap between Clemson and Greenville. But, if history is any guide, he most certainly will not be the last.
To learn more about the Warehouse Theatre and its 2016-2017 season, visit warehousetheatre.com.