Faculty Spotlight: Tomas Salas

By Rachel Atterson

Headshot of Tomas Salas
Tomas Salas

Tell us a little bit more about what you do at ACC. What is your position in the drama department? What is you typical workday like?

My main job as one of the Production Technicians is to serve as the master carpenter and build the scenery for our drama department shows, as well as help with the light hang and focus for each show. I also lay the marley dance floor down for the dance shows. I usually get to the scene shop located on the second floor of the Rio Grande campus by 7 am everyday during the week and work on whatever needs to get done to get our shows up and running. I am a part-time employee so I usually leave around 11 am each day.

What were you doing in your career before you came to Austin Community College?

I have been a freelance technician/performing artist/arts administrator most of my adult life. I have worked for many theatre and dance companies throughout the Southwest, not just building sets but also doing lighting, running sound, acting, dancing, directing, stage managing, and tour managing. I have also done project management contract work for several non-profit arts organizations, most recently managing the Big Squeeze Statewide Accordion Contest for Texas Folklife.

How did you initially get into theatre? Where did you get your training?

My very first theatre experience was when I was 6 years old, in the first grade at Olsen Elementary School, Houston, TX. I played the lead role in a play that one of the teachers had written, and we performed it in front of the whole school. I remember all the attention I got for several days after from the other kids and teachers. I was hooked after that. I have continued to work in school, community, and professional theatre productions ever since then. I attended the University of Texas in Austin’s Drama Department back in the late 70’s, but most of my training has come from working on shows with some very talented and knowledgeable theatre artists.

What other projects are you apart of in the Austin Community?

I work with Texas Folklife, a non-profit folk arts organization, mostly on music projects. I work with the Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center, helping with their Christmas and Dia de Los Muertos events. Most recently I have started building sets for Spectrum Theatre company.

What are some of your favorite projects that you have worked on?

Of course all of the shows we have done here at ACC since I started working here six years ago. Building the set for The Wiz  was a blast. Working on the very first production of Greater Tuna with Joe Sears and Jaston Williams at the TransAct Theatre on 6th Street back in the early 80’s is one I’ll never forget. Producing, directing, and acting in the very first production of La Pastorela at the Mexican American Cultural Center in an old tin warehouse before the new buildings were built there at the Town Lake site was one of the hardest but most rewarding of my theatre experiences.

You have done a lot of work in California. How does it compare to the scene in Austin? Have you worked in any other parts of the country or the world?

In California the theatre scene is a little more competitive, which I think contributes to the fake friendliness and less willingness to help each other amongst theatre artists. Here in Austin, at least with the folks I work with, we really support and help each other with our creative projects. I have worked on outdoor dramas in Wyoming, Montana, and Oklahoma. Both shows “The Ballad of the West” and “The Trail of Tears” were directed by my longtime friend and theatre mentor Joe (Greater Tuna) Sears. I was also in the musical Emiliano at the Kimo Theatre in Albuquerque, New Mexico and in Tucson, Arizona. I’ve worked on shows in Tennessee, Louisiana, Arkansas, and Florida.

Fight scene from Guapa
Scene from Guapa. Photo by Anne Wharton.

You recently directed a play at ACC called “Guapa.” Could you tell us some more about your experience with directing?

I really enjoyed directing Guapa. It felt great to get back to directing. It had been about 12 years since I had directed a show. In the mid-90’s, up until about 2004, my brother Abel Salas and I ran a theatre company here in Austin called Teatro Libertad. I directed several of the plays we put on during that time.

Have you ever done acting? Do you enjoy it?

Yes, I have done my share of acting and do enjoy the work. I don’t enjoy the audition process. Most of the acting work I’ve done has been a result of theatre/movie friends asking me to play a role in one of their productions.

What is your favorite part of working in theatre?

I love the creative process; the challenge of creating an alternate reality on stage where the only real limitation is the limits of your imagination.

What advice would you give someone who wants a career in theatre?

Find people you enjoy working with and understand that it’s not about making lots of money. Do it because it genuinely gives you pleasure and makes you happy.

Is there anything else you would like to tell us about yourself?

I really enjoy working at ACC in the drama department and hope to continue helping the students get the education they deserve that will help them achieve their goals.

Farragut North

By Anne Wharton

Farragut North, ACC Drama Department, Perry Crafton, Beau Willimon, Austin Theater, Austin Drama, Austin Community College Drama Department
Scott Schumann’s set design looms throughout the play lit by Rachel Atkinson’s light design.

 

Shards of American flag punctuate the ACC stage like fragments of a patriotic mirror during Farragut North. The broken flags loom throughout the play as the main character’s political career shatters underneath the set. “Scott Schumann (set designer) really wanted to portray a broken American; a political system operating broken,” director Perry Crafton says.

The audience watches that system destroy press secretary Stephen Bellamy’s career within the 24 hours that the play takes place. “He’s really a Greek character,” Patrick Shaffer says on playing Bellamy, “his huge character flaw is hubris and it completely destroys him.” Shaffer smoothly portrays the confident, untouchable press secretary on the campaign trail as the play opens. As the minutes tick by, the press secretary frantically clings to his reputation as he becomes jobless and inevitably hopeless.

 

Farragut North, ACC Drama Department, Perry Crafton, Beau Willimon, Austin Theater, Austin Drama, Austin Community College Drama Department
Bellamy’s world starts to unwind; Scot Friedman as Paul Zara on the left and Patrick Shaffer as Stephen Bellamy.

 

The political drama is one of the most recent works appearing at ACC this season. The playwright, Beau Willimon, is perhaps best known for the Netflix’s original series House of Cards. “There’s a part of me that wants the audience to walk away angry with how the political system can be manipulated,” Crafton says. But the politics of Willimon’s Farragut North didn’t originally convince Crafton to present the current drama at ACC.

 

Farragut North, ACC Drama Department, Perry Crafton, Beau Willimon, Austin Theater, Austin Drama, Austin Community College Drama Department
Showing the brief pause during a campaign, Kirsten Bailey as Ida Horowicz, Colby Rumph as Ben Fowles, Patrick Shaffer as Stephen Bellamy, Scot Friedman as Paul Zara from left to right.

 

“The story is intense – it spoke to me on that level. And I liked the aspect of a contemporary story told through a classical drama structure,” Crafton says, “there’s Greek elements of tragedy contained in the play.” Guest artist Scot Friedman, who plays Paul Zara, was also captivated by the script. “Nowadays I look for roles that are interesting and compelling, for scripts that are interesting and compelling,” Friedman says about accepting the role.

 

Farragut North, ACC Drama Department, Perry Crafton, Beau Willimon, Austin Theater, Austin Drama, Austin Community College Drama Department
From left to right, Kirsten Bailey, Patrick Shaffer and Scot Friedman show the tension between politicians and reporters.

 

With the 2016 election hovering in the air, Farragut North is a timely drama. “The political backdrop feeds the urgency of the play; it shows the audience how high the stakes are,” Crafton says. The dark drama doesn’t represent the hopeful side of politics, but rather makes an “unapologetic statement” as Crafton calls it. The broken flags onstage are a constant reminder of how the political system is being portrayed. With presidential campaigns swallowing up media spotlights, the play portrays a world uncomfortably recognizable.

Photos by Anne Wharton.

Hello Jamie!

A huge Texas welcome to our new stage manager at ACC – Jamie Rogers!

Jamie Rogers, Austin Community College Drama Department, Austin Community College, ACC Drama Department, Jeff Day
Jamie Rogers. Photo by Jeff Day.

Originally from upstate New York, Jamie holds a BA in Theater Arts, an MFA in Acting and most recently earned his MFA in Arts Administration from Texas Tech University.

Talking of his philosophy on stage managing:

“It really takes a unique individual. The best stage managers are almost invisible; you don’t even know they’re there. But they’re the ones that really help the director’s goals come to fruition. They guide the ship into harbor.”

A believer in STEAM (Science Technology Engineering Arts and Math education), Jamie is excited to bring his passion into ACC classrooms. “The skills that I teach in the classroom go beyond here; I really want students to be successful wherever they chose to be.”

Jamie’s first production with the ACC Drama Department is Farragut North. Directed by Perry Crafton, the show opens November 5.

Farragut North, Austin Community College, ACC, ACC Drama, Austin Community College Drama Department

The Many Voices of Call of the Wild

By Anne Wharton

One moment he’s howling as Buck the dog, and then he’s embroiled in a bar fight… as both sides. Noel Gaulin stars as narrator, John Thornton, Buck and a whole host of other characters. The level of commitment he brings to the show is almost exhausting to watch, but you can’t look away.

Originally from San Antonio, Gaulin has been acting in Austin for ten years. He’s a member of Rude Mechs and Paper Chairs in Austin and he’s the sole actor onstage for ACC’s Call of the Wild.

ACC Drama, Austin Community College Drama Department, Noel Gaulin, Call of the Wild, Call of the Wild - Illustrated Edition, Austin Theater, Austin Drama
Noel Gaulin pours his energy into every vocal character he portrays.

What was the biggest challenge you faced in Call of the Wild?

Gaulin: Changing the mode of storytelling was a challenge. The story is meant to be read so the language is written for that intention. The challenge was to keep it fun, interesting, engaging. And yes, this is the most words I’ve ever spoken onstage.

What was it like to work with the multimedia aspect?

Gaulin: There’s no one to talk to onstage, so I’m actually grateful for the multimedia. I don’t feel alone. It’s like there’s another character in the story.

ACC Drama, Austin Community College Drama Department, Noel Gaulin, Call of the Wild, Call of the Wild - Illustrated Edition, Austin Theater, Austin Drama
Noel Gaulin as one of the many characters in Call of the Wild.

How did you develop such a broad range of vocal characters?

Gaulin: My first goal was to find the voice of the narrator. He was my baseline. Then I had to find the voice of Buck, the main character. And from there I got really big and had fun making them extreme and distinct. You make them larger to life the point of almost making caricatures… almost.

ACC Drama, Austin Community College Drama Department, Noel Gaulin, Call of the Wild, Call of the Wild - Illustrated Edition, Austin Theater, Austin Drama
Noel Gaulin pulls the audience into the performance with his focus.

How did the setting influence your performance?

Gaulin: The environment was everything at the time. It influenced people’s lives a lot more than now. You had to deal with the environment, the conditions. Conditions I’ve never felt, like freezing at below 10 degrees.

It creates a sense of perseverance – the story is about perseverance. It’s easy to be selfish in those conditions too. It’s more noble to do something for someone else given those harsh conditions. AND Jack London is brilliant to talk about all this through a dog.

What do you want the audience to get from the show?

Gaulin: We should be grateful for what we have. Remember to be inspired and believe in yourself. AND, I want people to come away wanting to read the book!

 

Call of the Wild – Illustrated Edition is free and open to the public. Click here to reserve your free ticket.

 

Photos by Anne Wharton.

“We’re all surviving something.”

Austin Community College Drama Department, Call of the Wild, Call of the Wild - Illustrated Edition, Austin Playhouse, Noel Gaulin, Austin
Noel Gaulin in rehearsal for Call of the Wild. Photo by Anne Wharton.

 

Call of the Wild – Illustrated Edition opened last week at the Austin Playhouse under the direction of ACC faculty Jason Tremblay. The show runs through this weekend with performances at 2:00 pm on Saturday and Sunday. The play is also being presented to local middle and high schools at 10 am through October 7.

The performance is a multi-media presentation that Tremblay specifically created to one day become a touring drama production for young audiences. It’s based on Jack London’s novel Call of the Wild. London’s novel follows the struggles of Buck the dog as he fights for survival during the Gold Rush.

Austin Community College Drama Department, Call of the Wild, Call of the Wild - Illustrated Edition, Jason Trembaly, Austin
Jason Tremblay is directing.

What made you chose “Call of the Wild?”

Tremblay: I read it in seventh grade and loved it. And even with people making plays out of all this classic literature, no one’s made Call of the Wild into a play. I think it’s because the story is about a bunch of dogs and people are like “how do we make that work?”

For me too, the theme of survival really stood out. Being placed in a foreign environment speaks to people on a deep level because we’re all surviving something.

What was the process like to transform the story from a book to the show?

Tremblay: I originally started writing the script by myself. I did twelve drafts before Noel (Noel Gaulin is the only actor in the production) even got involved. And then it was Noel and I for six months with the script – just trying to get it right.

We started throwing around names for techies – top dogs in town and friends we’ve worked with before. When it all came together with Eliot (Eliot Haynes is the sound designer) and Chris (Chris Owens is the media designer), it was a little dream team. I got the best actor and the best designers in town.

Austin Community College Drama Department, Call of the Wild, Call of the Wild - Illustrated Edition, Noel Gaulin, Austin
Noel Gaulin is the narrator in Call of the Wild as well as an assortment of other characters. Photo by Anne Wharton.

 

How did you incorporate all the images in the performance?

From the very beginning, I had written in beats (in the script) for images. There were just titles like “eye of a dog” or something. But it was a template to start from.

I really wanted original illustrations so we had photographs and images from the original 1903 book. Michael Ray did all the new type of illustrations. It’s a mix of new and old to create this interesting aesthetic.

What do you want the audience to take away from the show?

Tremblay: (talking about youth audiences) Most of these kids have never seen theatre – this will be their first experience of live theatre. I really want to peek their interest in live theatre and what’s going on in their community – all the vibrant art being made. I really want to get kids interested in the arts.

I also want to explore survival . What does it mean? What are survival tactics? What is survival in your life? What are you surviving?

 

Call of the Wild – Illustrated Edition is free and open to the public. Click here to reserve your free ticket.