Learning skills for life
Sometimes the greatest growth comes from conquering one's fears.
One of the first things senior Joanna Meyer did as a freshman performing arts student was to confide in Nate Tomsheck, Associate Professor of Theatre Arts. He also serves as technical designer, overseeing sets, scenery and lighting.
"I had the audacity to pull him aside on the first day and I said, 'Professor Tomsheck, I have a tremendous fear of heights.' He looked at me and said, 'OK.'"
When Joanna showed up for her first all-day work session for "Brigadoon," her professor had a special assignment for her.
"He had me painting the upper level of scenery and traveling up to the catwalks at the top of the theater," she says. "I was thinking, 'Tomsheck, what are you doing?' but it wasn't long before I could climb a ladder."
In fact, her job for the most recent show was hanging black curtains to block the audience's view of some of the play's special effects.
"I was actually leaning over, tying the tops of the curtains to the upper rails - and I realized I wasn't afraid. Slowly and encouragingly, Tomsheck helped me get over that fear and to become more independent. That's just one of the things I'll be able to take away from my time at LaGrange College."
Joanna says theater students at many bigger schools don't have the opportunities offered here.
"I have friends who haven't gotten a part until their senior year," she says. "And if you're aren't cast, you're not involved with the show at all. You go to your classes and that's it. I couldn't learn anything at a school like that."
At LaGrange, the theatre arts students are a part of every production, from the ground up.
"I've been assistant to props my freshman year, props mistress for 'Dames at Sea,' stage manager for 'The Maids' and 'Sweeney Todd' and I'm stage managing 'The 39 Steps' right now. I've painted a great deal of scenery and done almost everything. I've learned skills I never knew I had - even if you aren't on stage for a show, you are learning some fantastic technical skill that will serve you well in the future."
Joanna says she first started doing theater at a summer camp when she was 7 or 8.
"It was always a fun summer memory, but then I realized in high school that I could actually volunteer at the summer camp near my house and at Saturday workshops where I could take a teaching role. I learned that my hobby could become my life, it didn't have to stay just a hobby."
As graduation nears, Joanna is applying to graduate schools where she wants to pursue a master's degree in advertising and public relations.
"Right now, I'm torn between wanting to write scripts and direct commercials or working in the advertising and public relations department of a big theater. I love promoting theater - it is such an important thing."
But whatever she decides, she's confident that she's well prepared for the future.
"I've learned that I enjoy directing, something I had never done before because I always thought it was the teacher's role. I realized I enjoy it, and that was very eye-opening for me."
She also learned organization and time-management skills, as well as a greater confidence in herself. However, it was the bonds she's made with her classmates and professors that will stay with her.
"From your first day as a freshman, you are welcomed. Everyone says, 'Let me help you, let me clue you in, let me take you under my wing.' From dinners cooked by Professor Knoll and her husband to trading jokes with Tomsheck, it is very much a family atmosphere."
Then she laughs.
"Tomsheck - God bless him. He got me over my fear of heights and actually taught me how to operate power tools and machinery. Those are definitely skills I'm going to need. Every student and every professor has touched my life in so many different ways. I'm taking them all with me when I go."