Texas Tech University

Alumni Spotlight: Alicia Tafoya

Rachel Shipley

March 27, 2023

Alicia Tafoya

Alicia Tafoya (MFA Performance and Pedagogy, 2006) did not always dream of becoming a performer; in fact, as a child, she dreamed of becoming a scientist. She was never involved in the arts growing up, but in high school, when she had completed required electives, Alicia suddenly found herself backstage for her high school play. Armed with a limited knowledge of the art form, she dove headfirst into her high school theater program and suddenly found herself reconsidering what her future might look like.

How did you decide to pursue a career in the performing arts?

I do not know. That is the weird thing about me; I always wanted to be a scientist but found that I was not progressing in science the way that I wanted to, so I found myself switching gears. I started to look for opportunities at my local theatre to volunteer backstage, work front of house, and everything in between. I embraced opportunities to try new things. I never had any lead roles in my high school productions, but I was still confident that I wanted to pursue theatre more fully, especially because theatre was the first time that I felt I had a voice. I began to apply to undergraduate programs and ended up getting a full ride to a theatre program, so I went and did that.

How did you find yourself at Texas Tech?

When I was finishing my undergraduate degree, I overheard a classmate talking about how she was going to graduate school, insinuating that she was better than everyone else. I remember thinking to myself, “I could go to graduate school if I wanted to,” and then I started to investigate what that might look like. So, I guess you could say I almost did it out of spite [laughs]. 

I auditioned for a bunch of different programs, but I had a professor suggest that I consider applying at Texas Tech. During my senior year, I concentrated on finding ways to tell the stories of women who looked like me through getting involved in student-directed projects. I had never heard of Texas Tech, but my professor felt Texas Tech offered opportunities that aligned with my passion. So, with six days' notice, he contacted the department, and I flew out to tour the facilities and interview with the program during spring break. After that, I got my acceptance letter in the mail, but once I started doing the math, I discovered that I would not be able to afford the cost of out-of-state tuition. So, I packed my bags with plans to get my residency in Texas and re-apply to the program the following year. Once I moved to Lubbock, I decided to stop by the department and have a conversation with Dr. Jonathan Marks about my continued interest in the program, and a few days later I received a call letting me know that he had found some funding to supplement the out-of-state tuition costs. Before I knew it, I was enrolled in classes and my time at Texas Tech began.

What are some of your most memorable moments of your time here?

Probably most influential of my classes was when Dr. Norman Bert introduced me to Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire. Reading this book was a life-changing experience because it challenges our perspective of the well-made play, and it was an intellectual piece written by a person of color. It was the first time I had been exposed to philosophies such as this, and I remember wanting to cry. It was particularly meaningful because his work centers on the idea of eliminating the hierarchy and using theatre as a rehearsal for change. I still find the ideas in that work impactful, and I bring them up in conversations with my colleagues to this day. While I was at Texas Tech, I was given many opportunities to expand my skill set in ways that I had never experienced before graduate school. Even more importantly, the graduate school allowed me to create connections with other artists in the program that have continued beyond our time in the program.

What has your career looked like after graduation?

It has been a wild ride. 

Right after I graduated from the program, I had the opportunity to direct a bilingual piece called The Wonderful Santa Suit. The project was very low budget, I remember us hovering around a gas barbeque to stay warm in our rehearsal space, but, while challenging, it was a fun opportunity to bring a bilingual piece like that to life. 

Shortly after that, my husband was given a job opportunity in San Antonio, so we made the decision to move. While I was at Texas Tech, I discovered my love for teaching, especially witnessing the lightbulb moments as my students discovered the value of theatre for the first time. So, I began looking for a teaching position at a university. I taught as an adjunct professor for about 14 years in addition to working as an artist in the community while becoming involved in the Association for Theatre in Higher Education, where I was in leadership for over a decade. 

At the beginning of the pandemic, I accepted a tenure track position at a university in Oklahoma where I had planned to stay permanently, but a few years later I got the opportunity to transition as a visiting artist to the Children's Theatre of Charlotte where I felt my talents were more appreciated. I was still in love with the theater. I really admired that organization's core value: kindness. And I wanted to further their mission. 

When they offered me the opportunity to stay full-time, I made the move to Charlotte and have been here since. I am privileged to work in such a well-funded space, and I am passionate about connecting the community to the work that we are doing. I have only been here for seven months, but I have had the opportunity to be involved in number of exciting projects like expanding our sensory friendly performance options and working on a series called Voices in Full Color that focuses on developing new works by and about people of color. I am excited about the opportunity to elevate these stories and to continue to engage with the surrounding community.

How do you continue to use what you learned at Texas Tech in your work?

My time at Texas Tech helped me to discover my artistic voice. I am very proud of the investment that the department has made in the education of its current students, and I look back on my time in the program with fondness. My graduate degree was a joyful time, reminding me that Texas Tech fosters a community that continues to impact my life professionally and personally.

Alicia is currently directing Children's Theatre of Charlotte's production of Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus, an adaptation of Mo Williams' book of the same title. She actively keeps up with members of the School, and is a great resource for students interested in professional theatre.