COLLEGIATE THEATRICS: Lipscomb University's Tyler Russell
Ask anyone about the wealth of talent to be found in Nashville area colleges and they are certain to mention the abundance of theatrical treasure to be found at Lipscomb University. Over the past several years, under the leadership of Mike Fernandez, chair of the theater department since 2008, Lipscomb has established a vibrant colony of theater artists, culminating with the recent establishment of the College of Entertainment and the Arts-with Fernandez as the first dean of the college-on the bucolic campus located in the middle of Green Hills.
Beki Baker, one of Nashville's best known directors and actors, is completing her first semester as chair of the department of theater and dance, overseeing the burgeoning program and addressing the needs of students and faculty alike.
Among the leading students in the Fernandez and Baker-led Lipscomb theater program is Tyler Russell, a native of Vancouver, Washington, who has made an impact on local stages, starring as Marius in Lipscomb University Theatre's acclaimed production of Les Miserables in Fall 2013 and as Tony in the company's 2014 fall musical West Side Story. And in a true show of versatility, earlier in 2014, Tyler played Pinnochio in the joint Lipscomb/Circle Players production of Shrek the Musical.
Ambitious, driven and focused, Tyler is also friendly, charming, humble and self-effacing. He's also very busy-exceptionally busy in the way only college students can be and still talk about it. Luckily, we caught him during a rare moment of calm to discuss his experiences as a Lipscomb theater student...
How's your college theater career going? Has Lipscomb lived up to its advance hype? College is going so well. I have learned so much and really stretched myself. Going in to study theater at the collegiate level, I was told that it would be all-inclusive and that it would become my whole life. This is all absolutely true. I am busy all the time working on a show, painting or building sets, constructing costumes, doing other class work, design work, or other elements in the theater, but I love every second of it and wouldn't change a thing about my crazy schedule!
What's your favorite part of theater life at Lipscomb? I love the friendly competitive nature that Lipscomb has. Everyone works really hard and always puts their best foot forward, whether in class scene work or auditions for a show, but at the end of the day everyone is there cheering you on and wanting you to succeed, even if you get an opportunity that they wanted. Having that support is such a blessing because I know how rare that can be. The professors are so encouraging and push us to work harder than we think we can. They are passionate about plugging us into the theater scene around town and they really are our biggest cheerleaders. I am so grateful for that!
Have your future plans changed in light of what you've experienced in college? I think my future plans change often. Lipscomb has given me so many experiences in the theater. I am able to perform, design, write, and direct. It's truly amazing! Some days I want to only perform for the rest of my life. Other days I want to direct theater or write new material for theater. I think Lipscomb has helped me be open to whatever God has for me; to be open to whatever is next. My future plans may change moment to moment, but I know that I want to continue to perform and entertain for as long as I can in whatever capacity I can and I feel ready to work hard for whatever that is!
What among your many collegiate theatrical moments looms largest in your memory? I recently had the incredible blessing of playing Tony in West Side Story. That was one of the largest theatrical moments for me in college. First of all, the score is insane. It is intricate and beautiful and a great challenge. It is such a vocally demanding role, so I spent a long time prepping for that role with my voice coach, Janet Holeman. And it's such an emotionally and physically exhausting show, so lots of prep work went into getting ready pre-show. I had to create such a different warm up process than anything I had used before. Lots of physical and vocal warm ups! Tony has so much meat to him, so there was something so rewarding about going onstage every night and leaving it all on the stage, completely spent. I think all of us realized what a huge show West Side was, so everyone rose to the occasion and really worked hard to create something special, and I think we did that. I'm so proud of that show. It's an unforgettable one for sure.
What advice would you offer to high school students considering making the plunge? Thumbs up or thumbs down? I say, go for it! Theater can be a scary world full of unknowns, and many people can try to tell you that it isn't a "smart route" or isn't a "safe" or "steady" source of income. But if you wake up every morning knowing that you need to sing, or dance, or write, or act...then you need to do it! There is nothing more tragic than not being able to do what God has created you to do. Be bold, be brave, and live with no regrets! There is nothing like collegiate theater, it is such a wonderful season of your life. I think people have to embrace every opportunity in collegiate theater and make the most of it. You have to know that it won't last forever, but it is such an amazing experience. I wouldn't choose any other way of going through college!