Art student given rare opportunity in theatre
The theatre department rarely appoints a first-year student as stage manager for its fall production, but this year was different.
Freshman arts and theatre major Heather Gifford was chosen because she is a remarkably upbeat 18 year old with a passion for the stage, according to Mary Yslan Hicks, interim chair for the department of theatre, arts and dance.
“Heather seems to light up from within when given the chance to talk about or participate in theatre,” Hicks said. “Although she has a strong knowledge base, she is curious.”
Gifford was raised in Little Rock. She comes from a family of five siblings and a single mother.
Gifford is the recipient of the Rotary Essay Scholarship, the Arkansas Challenge Scholarship, and the Racially Identifiable Scholarship.
She is also a 2011 graduate of the Arkansas Governor’s School; a six-week residential program at Hendrix College.
“To this day, I mention Governor’s School at least once a day,” she said. “It really did prepare me for college. It [was] life-changing.”
Since she was eight years old, Gifford has known her education would focus on the stage.
“Over the years, I have changed what I wanted to be, from actor to stage manager to theatre owner,” she said. “But it has always centered around theatre.”
Associate Theatre professor Stacy Pendergraft said “[Gifford] leaps at opportunity. She is committed, passionate and a very quick study. I am training her on the job, and she is able to keep a remarkable amount of information in her head. She is a clear communicator, both with students and with faculty.”
“People’s opinions matter to me,” Gifford said. “I always want people to feel comfortable; when I care about something, it is full throttle. I would like to think that I am a generally positive person.”
“Passion for subject matter is everything, and Heather appears to have found her calling,” said Hicks. “We will do everything we can to mentor her, challenge her and keep the flame alive. Then the question becomes, ‘What can’t she do?’”
Gifford’s plans include becoming an artistic director at a community theatre where the theatre community is not thriving.
“That way,” she said, “the kids who wouldn’t normally receive the chance for the experiences that I have had can get that chance.”
As stage manager for the fall production of “The Bacchae of Euripides,” Gifford will be responsible for house, sound and light cues during the show. She will also record blocking notation for all the actors and link the different sections of the show such as scenic, lighting, costumes, props and actors.
“I think she shows tremendous promise and the possibilities of what theatre study holds are exciting to her,” Pendergraft said.
Gifford said she has never been fond of Greek shows, but was astonished how this play brought forth some of the most creative minds.
“The show is different when you get to hear the actors read it,” she said. “It is going to rock your socks off.”
“The Bacchae of Euripides” by C.K. Williams will be on stage Oct. 11 – 14 and 18 – 21 in Haislip Arena Theatre. Showtimes are 8 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays, 7 p.m. on Saturdays and 2:30 p.m. on Sundays. For more information visit ualr.edu/theatre.
Freshman are nominated by UALR faculty and staff. If you would like to nominate a freshman email firstname.lastname@example.org.