Theater alumni return to campus for discussion

“An Afternoon with the Artists,” benefiting the Cecil J. Pickett Scholarship Endowment Fund took place Saturday in the Wortham Theatre and featured a discussion with UH alumni and  actors Brett Cullen, Dennis Quaid, Robert Wuhl and Cindy Pickett, Cecil J. Pickett’s daughter.

The event was moderated by Houston PBS’s Ernie Manouse and gave the actors the chance to share their stories about their earliest endeavors as actors at UH and their experiences with their late director and mentor Cecil J. Pickett.

Pickett raised the reputation of UH’s theater department by teaching acting and directing at the School of Theatre from 1970 to 1988; he directed productions for the Shakespeare Festival as well.

Manouse preceded the discussion by speaking about the importance of the connection between the teacher and student, which was so important to each actor’s success.

“It all comes back down to one fundamental thing and that is the teacher-student relationship,” Manouse said.

He brought to mind the goals the actors pursued which were fundamental to their careers so many years ago.

“The message today is about the value of a university education,” Manouse said.

Quaid mentioned that he knew he wanted to act after the first week of taking Pickett’s class at Bellaire High School where Pickett taught theater from 1956 to 1968.

Pickett’s focus and techniques on centrality and character development helped Quaid develop as an actor.

“He made us all fascinated by what it was like to actually experience someone else’s life,” Quaid said. “He would have us just go out in the street and just watch people.”

Wuhl was at the University for seven years and did not start out as a drama student, but eventually acquired a strong love for theater under the wing of Pickett.

“It was amazing how influential he was on me and how much I appreciate him more with each day,” Wuhl said. “I felt I had a huge leg-up because he taught craft.”

Cullen noted Pickett’s stress on literature and its influence on the work Cullen would study as an actor.

“He taught me about myself. He made me examine myself. He also made me read more than I’ve ever read in my life; I took almost every English course at the University because he made me,” Cullen said.

To top off the discussion, the actors welcomed questions from those in the audience and told their favorite stories about Professor Pickett.

When asked if there was any one thing that the actors wish they had been told at the beginning of their career, Cullen offered to share his own advice.

“Learn how to write. That’s one thing I wish I had done early in my career. I think college, university and local theater — when you’re young — is a great place to grow up.”

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