Interview with Tymberley A. Whitesel
Associate Professor of Theater Design
GC Graduation Year
Why or how did you choose your field? Were there specific experiences that influenced you?
The story of how I got into this industry is one I continue to share with my own students today. While I was a student at Goshen College, I really had never intended to study theatre; it actually had never entered my mind. I was a studio art major, focused on oil painting and drawings. I had planned for some time to go into architecture. During the fall of my senior year I had applied to a few graduate programs in architecture, been accepted to some and decided to attend the graduate school of architecture at the University of Utah. In the spring when the time came to complete my “application for graduation,” I was sitting in my advisor’s office and discovered I was six credits short. I needed two upper level courses, outside of my major before I could receive my degree. That was, of course, as a senior in college, a rather devastating thing to have happen. However in my case, it was the thing that changed my whole course in life. I deferred my entrance into graduate school for one year and decided to take one semester of a 5th year. One of the courses I took during that last semester was an Introduction to Scenery and Lighting design course. I can vividly remember sitting in the lecture space in the theater building on that first night of class thinking “wow… people actually do this for a living??” It completely changed my life; for the first time during that course, I was doing everything I loved. It was hands on, it was creative, there was a real sense of community, it used my drawing and painting skills, etc. When that semester was over, I decided to pursue a career in theater design.
While getting my MFA in theater design, I was able to teach a class of undergraduate students. That is what influenced me to go into teaching at the college level. My intentions at that time were to move to Chicago after school and make a go of it as a designer. You don’t know, however, what God has planned.
What’s exciting about your job or this field?
My job is ever-changing. Not only am I working on a different production on a regular basis, but with a different production team, in different spaces, etc. But as an educator in this area, I am also working with different groups of people every year. I get to experience the excitement that the students have as if I am experiencing some of these new things all over again myself. It’s fun to see the students get excited about the fact that the scenic paint ordered last week has arrived, or the gobos they ordered for an upcoming show are in.
What has been a challenge in your career journey?
Like many other industries, this job can be stressful and time consuming. At times I have to step back and have a moment to take stock about what’s the most important thing right now…. the show that opens next week, or my family, or the stack of grading that is starting to pile up?
Looking back, would you do anything differently?
I’m not sure that I would do anything differently. I believe that the life we are on is our own journey and that we should enjoy it at whatever point we are at. All of our various experiences make us who we are today. We learn and grow with each passing moment.
How did your liberal arts education assist you in your journey? Are there specific examples you can offer?
Having my background in art put me well ahead of many of the other students in my graduate program. I didn’t need to take many of the basic art courses that some of them were taking. I did, however, need to take the theater history! Certainly, having the broader knowledge that comes with a liberal arts education helps greatly as I am working on a production. I can make connections between what I know from art history, to the sciences, to cultural studies. This helps me to have a fuller understanding of a time period that I may be researching for a specific show. Also, in theater you need the skills and talents of many people from many fields, so having a basic knowledge helps you to know when, and how, and with whom you need to connect the dots.
Did anyone offer you some memorable advice that you’d like to pass on? Or…what advice would you give to a young person just starting out?
I guess I will pass on something that I tell my students on a regular basis. You can learn something from every experience you have, as well as from everyone you’re working with. Take advantage of that. I also hope for all my students that they have that “wow” moment while sitting in a class where the things they love all come together in a way which they never expected. Be open to that!!