Dr. Chris McCoy, assistant professor of theatre and stage director, is a fresh yet familiar face to the campus of William Jewell College (WJC).
McCoy started his undergraduate career at Jewell in 1993, but he transferred to the University of Kansas in 1995 to complete a degree in secondary English and theatre education. Following graduation in 1998, McCoy pursued a series of jobs and internships across the country, which included the Seattle Children’s Theatre, Alliance Theatre in Atlanta and the Denver Theatre Company. Once he had received a fellowship from Opera America in Washington, D.C., he worked in Austin, Tx., San Diego and St. Louis. McCoy credits these experiences for affirming his goal of becoming an educator.
“I knew that everything I was learning while working in professional theatre was feeding me for my future plans to teach,” McCoy said.
After completing a master’s degree in theatre education at Emerson College, McCoy pursued his Ph.D. in performance studies at the University of California-Davis. His dissertation focused on musical theatre and contemporary musical theatre as satire. As a trained dancer and choreographer—having studied jazz, tap, modern and classical ballet—McCoy often incorporates choreographic movement into his theatrical productions.
“Dance and theatre are just so tightly integrated—they feed off of each other. The theatre is all about the voice and the body, and what I enjoy creating onstage or working with student actors is to look at movement in interesting ways, and how we use our voice to best convey character and emotion. To me, dance is just inherently part of my theatre practice, even when I’m doing a play,” McCoy said. “As you’ll see during this performance, I enjoy choreographic movements with lots of people moving together onstage. That’s how I capture naturalism; I don’t have many people standing still because it is so rare that we ever stand still and talk—we’re always doing something.”
The College’s liberal arts curriculum and small population were attractive to McCoy.
“What I have appreciated most about Jewell is that it is small enough where the students have a real connection with their professors; that doesn’t happen in so many other schools,” McCoy said. “Having a small theatre where I knew that I could direct as well as teach also appealed to me. A small theatre department where I can choose what shows we’re doing and help mold the curriculum of what the students are getting to learn is really exciting.”
Next semester, McCoy will teach three courses: “Movement and Voice,” a basic acting class; “Performance Studies,” a 200-level Critical Thought and Inquiry class that examines simple, everyday performances and their reflection of culture; and “Activism,” a theatre course that analyzes how social movements and protests use performance to spread their messages.
“I really want to attract more non-theatre students to take our classes. Performing skills are something you’re going to use no matter what career you go into, as they are all about how you present yourself and how you communicate. Every time we go in for a job interview, we are, in essence, performing,” McCoy said. “Understanding performance at a basic level through theatre is a great way to approach our 21st century society.”
McCoy has further transitioned this ongoing relevance of drama into the Jewell Theatre Company’s upcoming production, “Metamorphoses” by Mary Zimmerman. Inspired by the works of the ancient Roman poet Ovid, it is composed of a series of vignettes, each a different myth. The featured tales include those of Midas, Alcyone and Ceyx, Erysichthon, Orpheus and Eurydice, Pomona and Vertumnus, Phaeton, Narcissus, Eros and Psyche, and Baucus and Philemon. Despite the classical roots of the play, each vignette is updated with contemporary elements.
“My idea was to go post-modern or meta-theatrical and treat each play with an entirely different style. Where sometimes it’s a very classic, tragic, Greek tale, there’s Pomona and Vertumnus, for example, that features a vaudeville-burlesque type of performance,” McCoy said. “The whole theme of the show is that these are universal stories and stories that, because of Ovid, have been picked up by artists throughout history. We want people to realize that they’ve heard these stories before, in some form or another, by exploring different styles and eras.”
Along with wanting to expose students to classical Greek theatre, McCoy chose this performance because of its ensemble cast that allows actors to play more than one role. This gives the cast more flexibility and opportunities for various speaking parts, both major and minor. There are currently 20 cast members, each playing an average of three characters.
Research has been the primary means of preparation for students. Dr. Jane Woodruff, professor of Classical languages and history, was invited to the first rehearsal to brief the cast on each myth, and plastered throughout the auditorium, costume design room and theatre lounge are images depicting either the style of dress or artwork from or inspired by the Classical era. During the week before auditions, McCoy also implemented a workshop to give students a sense of the best approach to each character.
In addition to a live percussionist, the cast has been working to incorporate the untraditional element of the pool into the production. As the pool is central to each vignette, the symbolism of the water—from change, to destruction, to growth, to love—varies between each story. One commonality, however, has been the technical challenges that the water causes for costuming, scenery and safety. As costumes can only be reused after they are thoroughly dry, there are nearly twice as many costumes for this production as usual. Having actors walking backstage to change into dry clothes also creates the hazard of a slippery floor.
“We have to be constantly aware of who is backstage trying to get dry and what’s happening on onstage. We also need to know what kind of scenery elements need to be tempered for water. It’s a lot of tracking; you have to be aware of every little thing that’s onstage,” Zoe Spangler, sophomore theatre major and stage manager, said.
Spangler oversees the upkeep of the stage and conducts cues for the play’s numerous special effects, especially lighting. In general, she maintains the homeostasis of the stage. Although most of her work happens behind the curtain, in her preferred environment, she does participate with the actors in rehearsals.
“My job is to keep rehearsal going and make it as productive as possible. I do a bit of reading or walking through someone’s blocking if they are missing, ill or just unable to do so. Frequently, when people have other commitments like study groups, clubs or sports, I am there to provide lines,” Spangler said. “That’s as much as I do with regard to acting; you will very rarely see a stagehand on stage.”
Rehearsals have familiarized the cast and crew with both the play and each other; the onstage chemistry between the actors has been a particular source of bonding. This same chemistry, Spangler notes, is what makes the entire production. The myth of King Midas, the first play to be performed, is her favorite.
“The chemistry between Bruce Rash (Midas) and Luke Adams (Silenus) is great. They play off each other’s energy, and it looks like they’re having a good time onstage, which is ultimately what you want in a scene. They do it so perfectly,” Spangler said. “I’ve read through this play every single night and this scene never gets old; I’m always smiling into my book, because they’ve done it again. It’s definitely something to behold with your own eyes.”
“Metamorphoses” will be playing Nov. 19 and 20 at 7 P.M. and Nov. 21 at 2 P.M. and 7 P.M. To order tickets, contact the theatre box office at 816-415-7590 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Prices for Jewell students and seniors are $5 each, and tickets are $10 for general admission. To keep up with the progress of the Jewell Theatre Company, visit their Facebook page.