Seemingly every day of the year, theatre students are preparing to play different characters in various shows both on and off campus. Next semester, 11 theatre students are testing their talents in New York City as part of the Tepper Program with Syracuse University.
ACU students have been participating in the Tepper Program for eight years.
This year’s participating seniors are:
- Christian Winter, acting and theatre ministry major from Escobedo, California
- Gabby Walker, musical theatre major from Chicago
- Andrew Gililand, acting major from Middletown, Connecticut
- Jill Jackson, acting major from Austin
- Carl Kimbrough, senior musical theatre major from Marietta, Georgia
- Madison Massey, musical theatre major from Fort Meyers, Florida
- Andrew Boone, theatre major from Abilene
- Payton Reeves: musical theatre track major from Dallas
- Lance Bleakney, theatre major from Tulsa, Oklahoma
- Sierra Cowell, theatre major from Shadow Hills, California
- Ryan Derrick, theatre major from Keller
Though moving to New York is a drastic change from living in Abilene, the group was in excitement for the upcoming challenge both in city life and academics.
“I’m most excited for the change of pace,” Walker said. “There’s definitely an energy in bigger cities and it’s not that Abilene is lacking in energy, it’s just so much faster in New York and I think that will be nice for all of us.”
Kimbrough, a New York native, said he’s excited to share the experience with his friends and help them figure out the city.
“It feels like home there and I’m excited to see them learn the city and get used to riding the subway and everything the city has to offer,” Kimbrough said. “Most tourists spend most of their time in Midtown so I’m excited for them to experience the non-tourist things. Life in the city is really hard, but it is really rewarding if you can figure out how to do it.”
With no hesitation, the group excitedly nodded about the significance of taking on the experience together.
“These guys, we’ve gotten to watch each other grow up for four years, so I’m excited to go make our first steps in the real world together,” Jackson said.
“I am so excited to be sharing this experience with all of my really close friends,” Reeves said. “I am so thankful that this opportunity allows me to experience what it would be like to live in New York as well.”
As far as academics, the cohort will be taking classes at Syracuse University, including museum and field trip lab, advanced actors workshop, topics in theatrical and dramatic history and improvisation.
Winter said he’s most excited for the improv class because it hasn’t been something he’s been able to do much at ACU.
“I’ve done a lot of improv before, and I didn’t get to do it much here, but I’m excited for that,” Winter said. “To be in someone else’s shoes make you think different things about yourself. Theatre is a great thing for anyone to be a part of, even if its a short time of their life, to see it reveal something about yourself.”
“I’m really excited about who we’re going to be working with, both the professors and also the other students, mostly Syracuse students, and getting to be around people who love to create,” Gililand said.
Boone said he’s most interested in the showcase class because it gives students an opportunity to audition while they’re in classes. Reeves agreed, and said being in the city will help jumpstart their careers.
“Being able to have the opportunity to perform for some casting agents is so exciting,” Reeves said. “I think living in New York for a few months while auditioning whenever we can is super helpful too.”
For four years, each has performed in numerous shows, both musicals and plays.
Walker said her favorite part of learning how to perform the past four years is getting the opportunity to tell stories, and have others see their story in it.
“Theatre is such a personal, human connection,” Walker said. “Each performance is different and each audience experiences something different. God is the ultimate creator, and us being able to create is like the acting image of God.”
In agreement, Winter said as a theatre ministry major, he enjoys seeing God in all they do.
“God is the source of all goodness, and anything good we see has a glimmer of God in it,” Winter said. “We are digging through the humanity to find the God that lives in us together.”
Jackson and Gililand said their favorite part of the past three-and-a-half years was putting part of them
“I love getting to share peoples stories and getting to share my own story through a character, and getting to express the stuff that people might not be able to express themselves, but they wish was heard,” Jackson said.
“When an audience can look at a performance and say “me too” or can see themselves on stage, to me, thats the mark of a really good performace, or if they can find some sort of comfort or solace in it,” Gililand said.
For all of them, New York is a bridge between being a student and working in the real world. Half of the group is using their time as a scapegoat to determine whether or not they want to pursue a career in the big city.
“I’m very much a person of where the wind blows me, I’ll go because I’ve found that when I say I want to go somewhere, if it doesn’t happen, I get really sad,” Massey said. “The happiest I’ve been in life is when I don’t have a plan and then I end up there and actually love it. New York is a place for that.”
Winter also said New York will be a nice middle ground between college social life and working.
“I think it will be cool to get away,” Winter said. College is a great time of being social and having fun times, but it will be good to make this middle transition where we’re still with our class, but more serious and getting into it as a craft, a business a job. It’s a nice middle bridge between actually doing that and college.”
Of the 13 seniors, two are staying in Abilene to continue their careers. The other 11 officially move in on Jan 11, and will return the last week of the semester to graduate.
“Every year when the seniors come back from Tepper, they always seem to have an elevated sense of permission about pursuing their craft,” Gililand said. “They feel more confident about going forward, and they feel like they can really do this, so I’m excited to embrace that.”