Texas Tech University

Reflecting on the Past to Navigate the Future

Mark Charney

April 6, 2021

When I first moved to Lubbock, almost nine years ago, Richard Privitt, our-then-audience-and-marketing-specialist, introduced me to the entire city, one person at a time.

No exaggeration.

My earliest days were spent touring Lubbock, meeting those who promote the arts and the community, while interviewing on television and the radio, all set up by Richard, an alum of our program: LHUCA, Lubbock Community Theatre, Guadalupe Somerville Parkway, The Transition Academy. 

I remember fondly the lunch at the Overton where Richard introduced me to one of his best friends, playwright (Greater Tuna) and alum, Jaston Williams; we laughed so loudly that I know that those sitting near us wished we had “broken bread” elsewhere. In no time at all, Jaston, of course, became instrumental to the growth of our playwriting program, not only as one of our first guests at WildWind Performance Lab, but also attending the very first Marfa Devised Intensive and participating actively in BurkTech, our collaboration with the Burkhart Center for Autism. He remains much beloved in our program.

Jaston, of course, is not the only alum who has affected the growth of our School. Herb Armstrong, who attended my earliest conversations with those from the community interested in theatre and dance, contributed terrific funding to support WildWind Performance Lab and all student endeavors. His generosity facilitated much of our students' national and international travel, and he even coordinated social gatherings for WildWind guests and participants, welcoming the best theatre and dance practitioners from the country to Texas Tech. Herb is singularly responsible for supporting myriad student experiences, and his affection for our program also makes him a wonderful advisor for everything from season selection to critical analysis. The program simply would not be what it is without his support.

During my first semester here, I enjoyed my time meeting Brad Leland, an alum who was featured in Friday Night Lights, in a dinner honoring his achievements, and in my visits to Los Angeles, I was hosted more than once by Randy Cordray, producer of The Office, in his studios there where he treated then-Dean Carol Edwards and a team of us from TTU to intimate tours and shared experiences in theatre and television. When G. W. Bailey, a prominent actor in The Closer and Major Crimes, joined us for an alum event, he shared hilarious stories about our program that had us laughing all night in the hospitality suite, while Bruce Rodgers, designer of many of the recent Superbowl half time shows, invited then-Dean Noel Zahler and me to see the premiere of his first designed Cirque Du Soleil show, Run, in Las Vegas. Once there, we met with the casts of many of the other Cirque shows, were treated to backstage tours, and learned much about the business of design.

Another graduate of our program, Tim Crowley, whom I also met at the alumni reunion we held in my third year, offered the School of Theatre and Dance an “experience.” After learning about ways in which we hoped to reshape the School, Tim asked me to propose a program that would benefit both our students and the town of Marfa, one that would truly use the environment to build education. This proposal eventually became one of our signature programs, the Marfa Intensive, truly exemplifying the best of experiential education.  For two weeks each summer, Tim generously allows students free access both to his hotel and his theatre in Marfa. Once there, he treats us to tours of all the art in Marfa and the nearby observatory, even taking us across the border to Mexico one summer so that we could devise theatre based on a “hunch” that challenges students to participate holistically in each aspect of the theatre process to build a show in eleven days.

And for our Dance Program, Suzanne Akers, pretty much responsible for building dance at TTU and furthering the art form in Lubbock, has been a constant source of support, encouragement, and advice, as has alum Luke Kahlich, who coordinated a group of past students to dedicate the lobby of our Creative Movement Studio to Diana Moore, a professor who impacted many theatre and dance students. Those who returned paid tribute to her in a beautiful celebration, one that celebrated their affection for dance and Texas Tech.

Closer to home, Clifford Ashby, former professor of theatre history, and his wife Sylvia advised me early on about the desire for our alums to be active participants in the decisions made to advance the program, as did Roland and Juanice Myers (who gifted us beautiful shadow puppets which adorn our new main office). Pam and Jay Brown, who built and successfully run the Lubbock Community Theatre, have shared their spaces, collaborated with us on projects, and offered advice about best ways to serve the community. They have honestly never turned down a request for help, providing a home for our School when we were relocated based on a fire, and when WildWind artists needed a stage to share their art.

And these are just a few of the alums who give of their time, their advice, their financial support, and yes, their love.

Programs that do not take advantage of the wisdom of their alums are failing to acknowledge that looking ahead necessitates reviewing the past. Our School of Theatre and Dance rests on the shoulders of giants such as Ron Schultz and George Sorensen, leaders who have left a legacy upon which we hope to build. We attribute the success we have had, in large part, to our alumni's wisdom, generosity, and continued affection for the program that, at one point, transformed their lives, and we remain grateful to them now and always for sharing the stories of the past to help us better navigate the future.