Getting to the Art of the Matter: Part 4

By: Peter Van Houten

Want to sell your car? Take a piano class. Interested in law school? Perhaps you should audition for “Guys and Dolls.” A fine arts degree can teach you so many useful skills.

We talked to eight successful former Casper College students who are now working in their respective fields. In discussing their careers, they offer numerous ways that music, dance, painting, and acting apply to other professions such as law, finance, sales, and politics.

If you haven’t yet, make sure you read part 1part 2 and part 3 of this series.

Michelle Jarvis likes the impossible.

Several times a week as the production sound engineer at the Alliance Theatre in Atlanta, Jarvis is asked to take on a difficult assignment with an impending deadline. Many others might balk at the situation or fold under pressure. Jarvis, instead, relishes it.

“It’s what I do,” she said. “It’s part of what makes our shows successful.”

Jarvis learned this lesson firsthand when she decided to come to Casper College in 2008 after researching numerous theater programs across the Western United States. She said she spent many late nights working on theater productions in Casper, which allowed her to develop many close friendships at the school. For example, once she graduated she spoke often with instructor Doug Garland, (retired Casper College theater instructor), who urged her to finish her studies and earn her bachelor’s degree.

“I had a job offer once I left Casper, and I wanted to take it, but Doug kept urging me to stay in school,” she said. “I am glad I listened to him.”

Garland wrote her a letter of support for her successful application to the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, one of the top colleges in America for technical theater. During her senior year, she earned an internship at the Alliance Theatre in Atlanta, where she helped with the production of “Zorro.” Soon, a full-time sound engineering job opened at the theater, and Jarvis quickly applied to fill the slot.

“My boss told me, ‘I really like you, you fit in well here, would you take this job?’ she said.

What impressed her boss the most was her “go-for-it” attitude no matter what was asked. Even when the task seemed impossible, Jarvis found a way. “Sure, it might suck, it might mean some late nights. But I always think about how awesome it feels when we’ve reached our goal.”

Next up, for example, she has an extremely tight window to help tear down the stage from the last show and prep it for the next one. To increase the drama, the closing show, “Moby Dick,” is filled with numerous theatrical elements including lots of rigging, speakers, infrastructure, and aerial components. In less than 24 hours, she must clear the stage and ready it the next day for “Slur,” a show being done by middle school children.

“I could complain, and I could be angry, but instead, I know we will get it done and it will be awesome,” she said.

Some day, Jarvis, who has already been promoted once at the Alliance Theatre, hopes to run the sound department at a regional theater. If so, she knows she will still be expected to perform miracles amid the nonlinear environment of a large theater company.

“I think I would do well if the zombie apocalypse ever came,” Jarvis says with a laugh. “You learn a lot of useful skills working in a field like mine.”

This story originally appeared in the Winter 2017 issue of Footprints.

Learn more about the theatre technology program at Casper College.

Media contact: Lisa S. Icenogle

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