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Artist Q&A: Theater Professor Jeff Stover


by Betsy Lewis 22 Jan 2009

At just 37 years old, Jeff Stover became UT-Dallas’ Director of Theater and Dance this past summer. While studying at Collin County Community College, the former high school football player wandered into a theater class for easy credit but ended up finding his future career and life’s calling. He graduated from the University of Nevada […]

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At just 37 years old, Jeff Stover became UT-Dallas’ Director of Theater and Dance this past summer. While studying at Collin County Community College, the former high school football player wandered into a theater class for easy credit but ended up finding his future career and life’s calling. He graduated from the University of Nevada at Las Vegas with a degree in Technical Design and just completed his Master of Fine Arts in Arts and Technology at UTD. He joined us recently to take part in the Art&Seek Q&A:

Art&Seek: What was the hiring process for your current job?
Jeff Stover: I was Technical Director for almost 10 years. I was very young when I became Technical Director — I was 28. When I finished my MFA, the dean promoted me to Director of Theater.

A&S: There’s some controversy over whether people should be required to have an MFA to teach if they have the skills and the background but not the degree. What is your opinion on that?

J.S.: UT-Dallas has just gone through SACS accreditation. If SACS clears you and accredits you, then you are pretty much golden. You won’t be University of Phoenix. When SACS accredits you, they say you are of this caliber type university. SACS says in order for you to teach, you have to have an undergraduate degree and at least 18 hours toward a master’s degree in order to teach undergraduate. An MFA is a terminal degree. I’ve seen a lot of very well qualified people not able to teach because they do not have a master’s degree. Life experience should count toward something, but I don’t feel that life experience should substitute an MFA.

If you would have asked me this four years ago, I would have been completely on the other side of the coin. When I originally enrolled in the MFA program, I said, “I don’t know why they don’t just go ahead and give me my master’s degree now. This is ridiculous that I have to jump through these hoops.” Here I was an award-winning lighting designer, blah blah blah, fantastic resume, this that and the other. Now I will openly admit that I was foolish, because getting a master’s degree has opened my mind to a lot of things. I’m a much better professor and instructor because I went through a master’s program. They say those who can’t, teach. I completely disagree – those who do and do well, teach.

It made me look at my own weaknesses. And where do I need to improve? A huge spotlight was put on my writing ability; my academic writing – horrible. Am I a good writer now? No. Am I a millennia ahead of where I was? Yes. It’s forced me to be more of a critical thinker and to understand how I need to approach things to be a teacher.

A&S: You mentioned that you won an award for your lighting design — which award did you win?

J.S.: Multiple awards. Five or six Leon Rabin nominations, two wins – one for a show at Plano Repertory Theater, and Sweeney Todd at Watertower Theater. For a while there I was nominated every year.

A&S: Do you think you have a realistic chance of beating Heath Ledger this year for best supporting actor?

J.S.: It’ll be tough.

A&S: Do you ever worry about theater being a dying art form?

J.S.: I don’t think it’s a dying art form. The thing about theater you have to understand is it’s a living creature. It evolves and it mutates. Theater in its essence is a reflection of society. I don’t see us stopping social commentary.

A&S: You don’t think that function can be served by the newer media?

J.S.: I think there’s room for all these mediums. Theater is more of an in-your-face, direct contact. When I go online, there’s a screen. You go to a show one night, the next night could be different because of audience response. Something may happen onstage.

I was taught at Collin County by Brad Baker that you can change someone’s perspective in life simply by presenting a show to them. If you can change someone’s outlook in the world one degree, it doesn’t seem like much now, but find that person 10 years down the road and they are on a completely different path.

A&S: What are some of the adjustments you’ve made since taking on the leadership of the department?

J.S.: One of the biggest things I’ve had a problem dealing with is bureaucracy. As Technical Director, if something needed to be done, I’d get it done. Now, I’m at the mercy of other people.

A&S: Why do you have a bottle of generic-brand dental rinse in your office?

J.S.: I have fresh breath. The one rule you should never break is: Never ask a theater person to talk about himself.

The Art&Seek Q&A is a weekly discussion with a person involved in the arts in North Texas. Check back next Thursday for another installment.

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