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.