Reece Gunther and Kate Benton contributed to this story.
The Youth Performing Arts School (YPAS) welcomed a new security guard and two new teachers to its staff for the 2019-2020 school year. We sat down with them and asked about their expectations for their new position, the “Manual Way” and their goals for the individual departments within YPAS that they will service.
Robert (Bob) Upton, YPAS Design and Production
Q: What previous experience do you have that qualifies you for this job?
A: I worked in professional theatre for fifteen years doing regional theatre, working as a designer and tech director. I worked in some Tony Award winning theatre spaces and worked with some Tony winning directors and designers for a long time. I have taught this practice for twenty plus years before working here.
Q: What led you here to Manual?
A: In looking for a school that did quality productions and had really good working environments for their students, I found this place.
Q: What contributions are you going to make to the carpentry program?
A: A wealth of experience, certainly. Also, a newly acquired graduate degree and also a friendly attitude towards students. I love working with kids and adults that love to do quality theatre.
Q: Now that you’re at Manual, what are you excited about?
A: I’m excited about doing some, good, quality theatre in a great space, and making a contribution to the aesthetic values that this company produces and hopefully getting some kids really excited about doing theatre, if not for a lifetime, then at least for their time here.
Q: What part of the “Manual way” are you excited about?
A: I’m just excited to get into an environment that promotes quality work through all of the arts.
Q: What is your favorite production that you’ve ever designed for?
A: Peter and the Starcatcher, one of my favorite shows. I did it three years ago, it’s got some great aesthetic things you can do and it’s really theatrical in what it presents. That and also “Little Shop” (of Horrors), which is a great show to design. Also, All My Sons, which is an old Arthur Miller play, which is a really cool set, because it’s in a backyard so it has all these natural elements, but also these cool architectural elements too.
Q: What show would you like to design for that you’ve never done before?
A: We’re doing Tartuffe in the spring, which I’ve never designed before but always wanted to do. Maybe a production of a play called Machinal, which is a show from the 20’s. It would be a great show because it’s about a woman struggling to fit into society with the patriarchy, and she always feels as though society is watching her. There’s all these windows, doors, and streetscapes, which would be super fun to work on.
Jane Jones, YPAS Theatre
Q: What is your previous theatre experience? What led you here?
A: I was the Director of Education at Actors Theatre of Louisville since 2015, and I started there in 2010, so I have previously worked as a director, a playwright, a producer, a carpenter, an actor, and a stage manager. I also worked for the American High School Theatre Festival, which is part of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, and I’ve done that on the tech side for about 10 years, and I really liked the opportunity to engage more deeply with a cohort of young artists.
Q: What contributions are you making to the theatre curriculum/program?
A: Right now, I bring a fresh set of eyes. I think that this is a really incredible training program, so what I am trying to do is learn what is here and then see what I have to offer. So, sort of immediately, I’m digging through old Humana Festival anthologies, and it’s nice because I know most of them, so right now I offer a strong connection to new plays and also am reinvigorating the bridge between YPAS and Actors Theatre.
Q: What are you excited about now that you’re at Manual/YPAS?
A: My mantra is “I am a beginner, and that is a gift.” I think that there’s something really exciting about being new, and that it allows you to see processes, opportunities, and ways of doing things that you wouldn’t necessarily see if you had gotten into a routine, and so what I’m really excited about is that I offer the opportunity of a new perspective for the students, and I am excited to learn their approaches, because I think that those things will come together to form another new piece.
Q: What’s the best production you’ve ever done or seen?
A: I find that that’s a really challenging question because every time I see something that surprises and delights me in a new way, it makes it harder for the next production. But my recent favorite is a play called “The Thanksgiving Play” by Larissa FastHorse, and to my knowledge, it was the first play that I’ve seen that was written by a Native American playwright. The play was about white people trying to put on a play about Thanksgiving, and it was interspersed with actual elementary school lessons about Thanksgiving that were deeply problematic, and I found it really delightful that a play that seems so simple on the surface could have such nuance and struggle.
Q: Do you prefer being more behind the scenes or in the spotlight?
A: I think that it depends on the play. I don’t identify as a performer, but I think that as a director, you have to be really present and upfront both for the cast and as a liaison to the community so people come to see the show, but you probably won’t see me on stage.
Denis Cox, YPAS Security
Mr. Cox poses in front of the bike he rides between Manual and YPAS while making sure students are safe walking between the two buildings. Photo by Reece Gunther.
Q: Can you tell me about your experience as a security guard before Manual?
A: I came from Shelby Elementary, I was a security guard there for two years. I was brought in by a woman named Ms. Goff, she was the principal at the time and a very nice woman. She’d seen how I’d interacted with the kids over her summer program because they wanted me to work. She’d seen my interactions with the kids and she was like, “You’d be perfect for my security staff.” So, that’s how basically I got into security.
Q: How did you end up at Manual?
A: Well I ended up at Manual because I applied for the program. You know I’ve been around Manual High School forever. My uncle actually retired from Manual High School as a security guard, so I remember him being on this corner and I’d get out of school and meet him on the corner up here at Lee and Brook Street, so this is like, full circle for me.
Q: So what do you think is different about Manual as far as security goes, compared to Shelby or any other places?
A: The best thing about Manual as security is the kids. All of the kids are very polite. Don’t get me wrong, there are polite kids in every school, but these kids are real excellent, these kids are like some of the best kids I’ve ever interacted with. So, I’ve had a great time here.
Q: What is your daily contribution to the security atmosphere at Manual, and what is your main duty?
A: My main duty is to make sure that you guys are safe walking in between the schools because, this is not one of the best neighborhoods, you have to be very aware of what’s going on around you, and what I bring to the table is more security. Mr. JP has done an excellent job since he’s been here, and he’s done nothing but welcome me here. So, I want to make sure you guys are very safe walking around here.
Q: What’s something interesting about you that you think people should know?
A: Two things. I’ll give you two things. First one, my son graduated from Male High School last year, so he’s like, “Aw dad, you going where?” He went to Male High School, he was outside linebacker. Second thing would be that I’m a ten-year cancer survivor, this is my tenth year being cancer free, I had B-cell lymphoma, you know I fought through the whole struggle of it with the cancer, and I’m fortunately healthy. And I’m back.
Q: How do those previous experiences contribute to your personality today?
A: It actually affected me as a person as being a very bright and chipper person. No one truly understands that life is not- you’re not promised that. I learned the hard way that hey, you know, going from a doctor telling you you have four hours to live, to seeing today, ten years later, It’s a blessing I got to see my kids raised and go off to college, a blessing.
“I hope students see me as approachable and introduce themselves to me. I am here to help them so I want to do that in any way I can,” Cox said.