Virginia Tech’s Drama Department has recruited its newest member to the troupe: Meet Laura Epperson, lifelong theater enthusiast and post-MFA Applied Performance Fellow. Epperson’s journey to a career in the theater began as a child after seeing a production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” a William Shakespeare comedy that chronicles the journeys of lovers, fairies and actors through of a magical and crazy night in the woods.
âOne of my earliest memories of seeing theater was a production of A Midsummer Night’s dream, when I was in first or second year, âEpperson said. âThe production was in a little black box theater that had been transformed into a beautiful and mysterious forest. I didn’t understand what was going on, but I felt like I had been transported to another world. It was magical and I loved it.
This theatrical magic made a lasting impression, as it ignited Epperson’s love for the theater and led her to audition for productions at a young age.
âMy first memory of playing in a play probably happened around the same time. It was a church play about âthe real meaning of Christmasâ and I played Santa Claus, âEpperson said as he reflected on his first memory on stage. âI was a real ham and I remember being both surprised and delighted by the laughter of the audience. It made me feel powerful! Since then, I have been involved in theater, always seeking the sense of empowerment that comes with building new worlds.
The journey to Blacksburg, however, was not linear. Like any budding artist, Epperson traveled to New York City in search of artistic success while picking up all the odd jobs along the way.
âAs I started auditioning and working on creative projects, I supported myself with around ten thousand part-time jobs / gig work: barista, temp office job, nanny, catering waiter, filler. envelopes, hot chocolate sample maker – you name it, I probably did, âEpperson said. âAlthough I loved acting and creating theater, I struggled to find meaning and personal fulfillment in the ‘survival work’ side of being an actor. A few years after starting my life in New York, I discovered the term âteaching artistâ and was immediately intrigued. “
Eric Booth, arts learning consultant, defines teaching artists as âA practicing professional artist with the complementary skills, curiosities and sensitivities of an educator, who can effectively engage a wide range of people in learning experiences in, through and on the arts. âIntegrating artistic expression into education. A new door has opened.
“I thought that continuing to work as an artist in education might provide opportunities to use my art as my survival job, âEpperson said. âI started a teacher artist training program with an amazing arts organization for young people called the Community Word Project and immediately realized that not only had I been a teacher artist before and didn’t know it, but what to teach and creating art at the same time makes me feel more alive. and fulfilled than anything else, professionally. Eventually my journey as a teaching artist led me to graduate school where I realized I enjoyed working, creating, performing, and learning with undergraduates.
Epperson has decided to refocus and devote her talents to arts education, a move that will ultimately lead her to a higher education job site with a listing for Virginia Tech.
âI felt like the job was for me! Epperson said when she first found out about the job. âI loved that the job involved so much teaching, especially teaching acting and collaborating to non-majors in theater, which is one of my favorite things. I was also excited about the emphasis on applied theater and the opportunities to work with the Center for Communicating Science at Virginia Tech. I like using theater and performance to collaborate with ânon-artistsâ (which is not a reality – everyone is an artist!) I also thought this position would be a great opportunity to develop my experience in academia in the hope of eventually securing a full time and long term university teaching position.
Complete a new job at a new school with the fact that this is the first year of in-person school in over a year and the job becomes a pretty intimidating position. However, Epperson started racing during his freshman year at Virginia Tech. The favorite part of Epperson’s teaching so far has been getting to know his students.
âI love to see people open up and share through the performance,â Epperson said. For some people, it’s the first time they’ve done something like this and it’s really special to be a part of it.
However, that doesn’t mean that face-to-face teaching doesn’t come with its challenges. Every professor, teacher and administrator has had to readjust to teach in front of a class, not a camera.
âAll of my teaching and creative work over the past year has happened virtually, which was both challenging and inspiring,â Epperson said. âI hadn’t been a masked teacher, or even been in a room with 20 other people in a year and a half, until the first day of class at Virginia Tech. I didn’t know how the exercises and theatrical performances would work with masks. And frankly, I’m still figuring this out. I was so grateful to work with some awesome students who are willing to be flexible and experiment as we discover how to stay safe while playing and making art.
âI really get a lot of energy when I teach, which is not my normal way of being,â Epperson said. âI think I have even more energy these days to make up for the fact that half of my face is hidden behind a mask. Mondays and Wednesdays when I teach two sections of acting, I come home and totally fall apart. It’s great to be back in person, but I’m still working on getting back in shape (teaching).
This adjustment was just an adjustment – not a hindrance – and Epperson fully embraced teaching in-person to both theater and non-theater majors. Especially at a school like Virginia Tech – well known for its engineering and architecture programs – Epperson is charged with not only teaching the theater arts, but also teaching them to groups of students who have little or no experience in the dramatic arts.
âI love teaching non-drama students,â Epperson said. âIt’s really fun working with people who have a relationship and / or a different perspective on something that I love and that I’m totally immersed in. I’m always learning new things: about the theater, about myself and about the world. I also really enjoy building a course that’s quite different from the other courses that a lot of the non-theater majors I work with. After passing a chemistry test or submitting a cutting edge engineering design, who wouldn’t want to spend some time telling a story or getting competitive by sitting in a chair? “
“The first production of the season arrives at the end of this month.” Epperson is advertising and encouraging everyone to support the Virginia Tech Theater by keeping upcoming productions on our radar. “Wonderful strange directed by Cara Rawlings, September 27-30.
Learn more about this upcoming season and all that the Virginia Tech Theater has to offer here.
There is a beauty to be found in theater at a school that specializes in more than the performing arts; students take these courses because they want to, not because they have to do it to graduate or compete for a position. Ultimately, theater is the discovery of the individual and how they come together to become a whole. âTheater is about learning to be more human together,â Epperson said. “It doesn’t matter who you are or what you do, it matters.”