Texas Tech University's School of Theatre and Dance prides itself on instruction incorporating some of the top professional and pedagogical minds in their fields. This semester, Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Doug Wrights and ballet master Li-Chou Cheng were on campus to share their extensive experience with the students of Texas Tech.
Wright's plays include I Am My Own Wife (Tony Award, Pulitzer Prize), Posterity, and Quills (Obie Award). Wright also penned the books for the musicals Grey Gardens (Tony Nomination), The Little Mermaid, Hands on a Hardbody (Drama Desk Nomination), and War Paint. He serves as president of The Dramatists Guild and he is on the board of The New York Theater Workshop.
Wright completed his residency earlier this semester and is back home in New York where he lives with his husband, singer-songwriter David Clement.
"I had a great time revisiting a city that's given me so many fond memories," Wright reveals. "My grandparents, my Aunt Marylouise and Uncle Jack, and my three cousins all lived in Lubbock when I was a child. My cousins Hershel, Paul, and Allan Meriwether all graduated from Tech, so it was a thrill to visit the campus again."
Wright taught a course on musical theatre book writing that, due to its compressed schedule, sometimes saw classes meeting for eight hours in a day. Wright was happy to pass along this important—and often overlooked—skill.
"Composers' and lyricists' names are synonymous with musical theater, but we too often forget the brave, lonely souls who craft the story and pen the dialogue that unites musical numbers into a consistent, compelling story," says Wright. "In class, the students wrote scenes, devised outlines, read both classic and new musicals, and enjoyed Skype sessions with some of the most prominent names in Broadway theater including Alan Menken, Stephen Schwartz, Michael Greif and Marsha Norman."
On the other side of campus, Li-Chou Cheng teaches courses in ballet, focusing on pointe technique. Cheng began studying classical Russian ballet when he was thirteen and graduated from dance academy at nineteen. He has spent the nearly two decades that followed as an artist with the National Ballet of China. However, when he finally made it to the United States in 1980, he felt like he still had a lot to learn and to pass along to the next generation of dancers.
"I am teaching a few different classes [at Texas Tech]—a beginner ballet technique class, a higher level technique class, ballet pointe, and a ballet lab," explains Cheng. "My technique classes are more stylized, but in the lab class, it's more about the student choice. Every style has strengths and weaknesses. If you have five different ways to do something, it's richer. What does a student like more? What effect does it have? That's what I am teaching."
Cheng served as an assistant professor for six years at the University of Utah before taking a position as principle teacher with the Boston Ballet. For almost three decades after that, Cheng was a Professor of Dance at Texas Christian University, retiring in 2018. Although he has stopped teaching full-time, he still teaches occasionally, a practice he feels is healthy for the body.
"I've learned so much from so many other places," says Cheng. "It's good to have a base so that you can branch out. Especially in the United States, all international styles are present. Then we can bring those international styles to Lubbock."
Both of these professors represent the dedication Texas Tech University has to its students, as well as the willingness to show every side of the professional world, the ups and the downs.
"When I first took the job of directing the School of Theatre & Dance, Artistic Director Gregg Henry from the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival pointed out that TTU does not have a major professional theatre in the area to offer possibilities for collaboration," says Director Mark Charney. "We took that challenge seriously, sending our students out to study with professionals all over the country, and indeed the world, but also inviting artists co campus. Wright and Cheng help to further student education and advancement. Both of them not only increase the visibility of our program, but also teach students in ways that complement our excellent faculty."
"My students and I compressed an entire semester course into four weeks," says Wright. "The level of almost fanatical commitment that it requires, the discipline, the exhilaration when things go well, and the heartache when they don't."
"I hope I gave them a sense of the joys and perils of working in the theatre."