Director brings fresh ideas to theatre school

The curtains are drawn back and the School of Theatre ‘ Dance is about to embark on a fresh act with a new director at the helm.

Steven Wallace, the new director for the School, hopes to expand on the achievements of former director Sydney Berger and take the theater program to a new, higher level.

"From Sydney Berger on down, everyone was looking for someone to come in and take it to another direction -†a new level, really," Wallace said. "To come in, sit in Sydney’s chair and do what Sydney has done is not the most interesting thing for me: he’s already done it. When he put it in, it was cutting edge and interesting and worked for him, and now: What’s the next level?"

The School recently revamped its master’s of fine arts program for acting and directing. For this school year, a small number of students will be admitted and will complete a two-year residency at the University for their degree. Wallace also has plans for the Jose Quintero Lab Theatre.

"Very much like the main stage series, where we have four shows and sell them as a season subscription, we’ll probably put in a subgroup that will be just edgier, modern pieces that are really designed to speak to the campus audience," Wallace said. "And I can see down the future, depending on the how the space operates, inviting other theater companies in and doing some pieces, performing here so it really brings artists in and out of the community."

Wallace’s School prospects aren’t limited to the University body itself. The city, Wallace said, has an active art scene that surrounds Houstonians and is easily accessible.

"From the Alley Theatre to the stages to Theater Under the Stars to across the board there are many levels of theater happening, and symphony and opera. It’s not just sort of ‘we’re a big city, we should have some art.’ It really is integrated into the community," Wallace said.

Houston will also help in the education of the students, Wallace said, as the city is the perfect crux between professional and educational spheres.

"Part of what I hope to bring to the table is the cross-section between educational theater and professional theater, finding opportunities where both programs cross. It’s that connecting point where our students really get a chance to learn," Wallace said. "Not just with faculty, but also whether it’s bringing guests artists or visiting professional theaters. Those are the kinds of things Houston can provide."

After spending his childhood in Europe, Wallace arrived to the United States at the age of 15. With a heavy background in science and mathematics, and speaking limited English, Wallace was enrolled in drama/speech classes in his public school.

"I spoke English like an American student would learn German and then go to Germany and speak the language," Wallace said. "I went into advising the first time, they saw all of these science and math courses, so they put me in drama/speech to help me foster English-speaking skills. That’s how it started, and I stayed connected ever since."

Wallace received a bachelor’s of science in drama and speech/English at Texas A’I University, now Texas A’M Kingsville. He later received his master of fine arts at Trinity University.

After teaching for eight years in Santa Fe, Wallace left to Los Angeles to gain first-hand experience in the film-television industry. But after nine years of living in Los Angeles, Wallace returned to teaching. His experience in Los Angeles is an important factor in how Wallace will shape his theater program.

"Part of my philosophy is that we need to recognize that theater is part of a huge entertainment industry now. Our students don’t just go to Broadway anymore. There’s a whole faÁade with Las Vegas alone. Think of Cirque du Soleil and many opportunities that come with that," he said.

Before arriving to UH, Wallace served as dean of the School of Theatre at Florida State University in Tallahassee, Fla.

Wallace has plans on starting a "business of the business" course in which upper-level theater students can receive a real perspective on being successful in places such as New York and Los Angeles. The course would discuss the basic issues from what it’s like to live in one of those cities to how to obtain a job while seeking acting gigs.

"I generally don’t think students should go there directly, but we have to train for a profession, and so that means what the profession is," Wallace said. "And to me, I’m not successful if I walk into McDonalds and see an actor working behind the counter."

Besides educating his students on the reality of making it in the entertainment industry, Wallace hopes to be part of the education of every student at the University. Specialization of a subject matter, Wallace said, occurs too quickly in colleges. And some students might brush off the fine arts believing they are of no use to their future career.

"The reality is, you’re going to study a lot of things you don’t like, and you’re going to see art that you’re not going to like. But you should understand why it’s interesting and why it’s there and why other people can appreciate it," Wallace said.

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