PEMRBOKE — When theater runs through two arts majors’ veins, they let it flow into everyone’s lives, and that is happening at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke.
For the past 30 years, Jonathan Drahos, the director of Theater at UNCP and the artistic director for Givens Performing Arts Center, and James Bass, the director of the GPAC and producing executive director at the center, have been dedicated to professional acting, directing and performative studies of classical and contemporary theater.
The men have collaborated to bring an artist-in-residence program to the university, whose purpose is to give students theater experience by building relationships with professional actors.
“For the student who truly wishes to be a professional theatre performer, here’s a chance to learn from professionals — and even better — to network with them and hopefully create a relationship that will further advance that student,” Bass said.
Drahos has worked as an actor in a variety of performance media, including Broadway, Off-Broadway, television and in feature films. As a producing artistic director of the Uprising Theatre Company and as an independent director, Drahos has in-depth experience in directing and vocal coaching in a wide range of styles and periods, such as Shakespeare and musical theatre.
He came to UNCP because he wanted to make a difference in students’ lives and to grow a program that would enrich many lives.
“I saw the position as a unique challenge for my ability to lead, even before I was hired.” Drahos said. “I was attracted to the community’s rich and cultural Native American history, and I wanted to be a part of it.”
Bass’ work connection with the school spans about 15 years. The UNCP alumnus worked first as assistant director of Student Activities and then as director of Alumni Relations.
As a student, Bass worked as a stage tech for national touring productions and acted in several stage productions at GPAC. He performed in University Theatre shows and worked “front-of-house” and backstage for national touring productions.
Throughout the years, he has taught courses as an adjunct professor in the departments of Mass Communication, and English, Theatre and Languages, on top of his duties as GPAC director.
Bass met Drahos when Drahos was directing the university theater production of “The Government Inspector,” where he photographed some of the actors while in character clothing. Bass was impressed with his work. Upon returning to GPAC, Bass found himself excited to begin arts talk with Drahos. And thus began the working relationship at the theater.
Drahos and Bass are using their combined experience to focus on creating a network of creative people in the surrounding counties that have the potential to enrich the shows they produce together.
“This will engage the community and bring ‘ownership’ of our theatre to the community.” Drahos said.
The duo started the Artist-in-Residence program with the show “Romeo & Juliet.” The show opened during the 2017-18 GPAC season and brought in six professional actors from New York City and Los Angeles. The artists spent a month at UNCP working on a professional production.
Drahos and Bass brought in the Music Department’s jazz ensemble to perform during the show. There was a large section within the ball scene of the play that featured UNCP students playing jazz.
The Art Department students collaborated on the poster art and created a depiction of the overall concept of the director’s vision for the show, Drahos said.
Mass Communication students helped with recording and editing of the entire full-length play.
“We have a mission to unify the campus through productions at GPAC,” Drahos said. “It is important for many reasons. It is about service and outreach to the community. Theater can help bring awareness to the community and increase the profile of the community it serves.”
This year Drahos and Bass are working on “The Three Musketeers” for the opening GPAC performance Sept. 20-21, and in October they will be working with Mark Andersen on his composition titled “Comte Dracula.”
“The Three Musketeers” will intertwine a percussion ensemble, featuring the students of UNCP’s Music Department. The students will create a percussion symphony within the big musical tavern scene, Drahos said.
“We are presenting an original performance as part of the season that cannot be found anywhere else in the region,” Bass said.
The Art Department will be intertwined in the production. Students will create posters depicting an animated concept of the show.
“It is important to our arts students because it gives them an opportunity to showcase some of the excellent work being done in our arts programs at UNCP,” Bass said.
As of March, the Theater program has verified more than 55 confirmed theater majors, Drahos said. And he hopes to build, cultivate and encourage the Artist-in-Residence program, alongside Bass as a spirit of collaboration and innovation.
Michelle Andujar can be reached at [email protected]