Jeffery West (Theatre/Freshman Seminar Program) has been an adjunct faculty member here since 2006. He has been teaching acting and theatre since 1991 – his first class was a packed class in the old Playmakers building at UNC Chapel Hill.
He and his wife Christine Morris (Theatre) are featured in the Triad Stage production of Reynolds Price’s “New Music.” (There are a handful of UNCG faculty, students and alumni involved in virtually every production there.) The two recently traveled to Macon and Warrenton, North Carolina, to see Price’s old home, the cemetery where many family members are buried, and places described in his fiction.
They both knew Reynolds Price, a colleague of theirs at Duke. Price asked to lead the “talk-back” after a performance of Morris’ one-woman production of Romulus Linney’s “Silver River.” West and Morris taught at Duke more than a decade. (West coached the club racquetball team there as well.)
After his spinal tumor illness and treatments that left him paralyzed from the waist down, Price always offered a graduate teaching assistantship position, West says – and that young man would be his caregiver for the year. “We knew several of these guys,” he says. They each said the same thing about the experience… ‘It’s the best thing that ever happened to me.’”
It was the sharing of life experience, of wisdom.
Since being in North Carolina, West has had roles in Dawson’s Creek, One Tree Hill, and other television series – and in plays at PlayMakers Repertory Company, Manbites Dog Theater, Raleigh Ensemble Players, The Temple Theatre, and others. He was artistic director of The Raleigh Ensemble Players for four years. He has directed more than 20 productions. He was once an extra in Woody Allen’s “Crimes and Misdemeanors,” at the Waldorf Astoria, when he lived in New York City. Allen had not liked a few lines of dialogue, so a scene with hundreds of extras was reshot. He was impressed seeing how Allen worked and how he interacted with others. He has worked with actors like Judd Hirsch, Glenn Close and Eva Marie Saint and many others. It’s all an accumulation of experiences he can pass on to his students.
His most important message to students? “Mostly it’s respect for the work,” he says.
At Triad Stage, a number of UNCG students work alongside faculty members. “They see our work ethic. We’re dedicated. We’re artists. [They see] how to behave.”
Most of the Theatre faculty are working professionals, he explains. They continue to audition, direct and work professionally.
The students are aspiring to do the same. “We send a serious number to New York City every year,” he says.
UNCG faculty share their wisdom with them – “How it works,” as West puts it.. An example? You don’t have to live in Manhattan, he tells students. It’s fairly ridiculous how expensive a tiny apartment can be. Consider certain parts of Brooklyn or Queens or Jersey City that are near mass transit. And you have to work. A newcomer to the City won’t be successful – not at first. So learn how to make ends meet without a 9-5 job, because you need to be able to audition during that period each day in order to put yourself in a position to have success.
The recent graduates are tapped into a network of UNCG’ers in New York City and LA, he says.
“Will you put this kid under your wing,” we’ll ask. “Sure,” is almost always the reply.
But it’s a tough business. “We don’t fool ‘em.”
That’s reality. Real life.
West talks of the “real life” depicted in the Reynolds Price production, a rare trilogy of plays. “They’re a really honest portrait of that place and time.” He will have a big part of making that world come alive each night, just as he has a hand in helping students develop their craft and in learning the ropes of being an artist in the City.
“We do what we teach.”