UTPA theatre serves college and community
Posted: 02/17/2003
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The current production of "Good News" is a classic example of how The University of Texas Pan American's University Theatre functions as a community entity, and an educational tool.

The musical - which runs February 26 - March 2 at the Albert Jeffers Theatre on campus - features actors and off-stage stars from the community as well as the University.

Two of the main actresses, Kristin Rees and Jasmine Rico, have no formal relationships with the University. Others, like Karen Bowley, are graduates of the University, but were not theatre majors. Still others, like Sharon O'Leary and Elizabeth Pearson, are community members holding key roles in the production.

"We welcome community participation, especially since so few theatre outlets for adults are available in the area at the present time," said Dr. Marian Monta, artistic director. "And the students don't mind the 'competition,' as they know they'll face a great deal more in the real world if they go professional."

Senior Designer Tom Grabowski welcomes people on the technical side as well as those who want to work on stage.

" We do have one or two people who like to work building sets and doing similar tasks, who are not students. We would have more of them, but we can't do construction in the evenings when the actors are rehearsing next door. We would drown them out with our machines," he said. "But we have often had retirees and others who like to work with us during the day.

Rees plays the "snooty cousin Pat" in this famous old musical by Buddy Da Silva, which is being held in honor of the 75th Anniversary celebration. She gets to sing several of the familiar hit songs in the show. A Teach for America member, she teaches fifth grade in Mercedes. She graduated in 2002 from Penn State, where she majored in criminology, but acted and sang in Penn State Thespian productions.

Rico, who plays "Connie the heroine", has lived in the Valley since junior high school. A 2000 graduate of Science Academy of South Texas, she currently attends STCC and sings with the band "Second Nature." She plans to transfer to UTPA. Rico said she has to be involved in the arts to keep her sanity.

Karen Bowley plays the key part of the astronomy professor. By flunking the hero, she prevents him from playing in the Big Game. In the 1927 production, the professor was a man, but in this 1993 revision, the professor becomes a former love interest of the football coach, played in this production by Mark Guerra. While at UPTA, Bowley did a lot of tennis and theatre, although her major was psychology. Currently, she teaches English at Nikki Rowe High School.

Sharon O'Leary came to the Valley in 1999 to start the music department at STCC. She has done a wide range of productions, from straight plays to operas to musicals. She is also working on a doctorate from the University of Missouri-Kansas City Conservatory of Music.

Elizabeth Pierson is the pianist for "Good News". Born and raised in Indiana, she has taught in a number of states and currently serves as an elementary school librarian with the Donna Independent School District. A member of the McAllen Symphonic Band, she plays the clarinet and piano.

Of course, most of the key roles on and off stage will be done by students and faculty from UTPA. Pat McEnnis, the stage director, is an adjunct faculty member in theatre. Melinda Blomquist, the choreographer, teaches full-time in the University's new dance department, while Kate Ellis of the University Theatre staff will serve as costumer, assisted by Stacey Davila.

Theatre majors like Didi Duron and Roberto Soto play key roles, along with many others. Several members of the University cheerleading squad perform and wear the red and gray of Tait University, the college where the play is set. A backstage crew of over 20 people, led by stage manager Michael Moore, supports the cast of 33.

"Good News" is being co-sponsored by the UTPA Alumni Association, UTPA GEAR UP and the UTPA 75th Anniversary Committee.

Special accommodations can be provided with five business-days notice. For reservations, information and special accommodations, call 956/381-3581 between 8:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Monday-Friday. This play is suitable for children third-grade and above.

Local residents who wish to be notified about participating in future productions are welcome. Announcements will be sent out soon about auditions and crew assignments for the final spring University Theatre production, "Metamorphoses".

Anyone wishing to participate may call 381-3581 to get a copy of the announcement.