January 15, 2013
Jason Harris said one of his favorite words always has been, “opportunity.”
Harris, associate professor and director of technical theatre and design in Avila University’s College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences, and 10 of his former and current students are in the midst of a tremendous opportunity. They were asked to construct the set that will be used for “The Musical Adventures of Flat Stanley,” a children’s play co-produced by the Kauffman Center and Starlight Theatre and running from Jan. 16-27 at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. Construction is taking place on the stage at Goppert Theatre.
Harris said the opportunity came about because of a professional association and because of work some Avila students performed last spring. According to Harris, Kent Andel, the production manager of “Flat Stanley,” contacted him through a former student, Sean Glass, who is working as lighting designer for the Kauffman production. Glass, who graduated from Avila last May, worked with a group of Avila students last spring in lighting a Starlight production at Kauffman. Andel and Glass liked the work ethic of the students and decided to offer them another opportunity.
Harris said he also worked last summer with a crew of Avila students on sets at Theatre in the Park in Shawnee Mission Park. He’s using basically the same crew for this assignment.
“These are great opportunities for students to get some professional work,” said Harris, who has been an instructor at Avila 10 years. “Right now, we have about 6-7 carpenters and four painters working.”
Charlene Gould, Ph.D., dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences, said that it’s providing students opportunities like this that makes Harris an invaluable asset to the theatre department.
“Jason Harris consistently inspires students by offering them paid opportunities in the community to utilize their professional training and skills,” Gould said. “Working with Starlight at the Kauffman showcases our talent and training in an incredible space, and we are thrilled to provide this experience for our students.”
The students are also gaining a valuable lesson in working on a tight deadline. They only started work on the set on Jan. 7, giving them effectively just a week to complete it, since they’re scheduled to set it up on the stage at the Kauffman Center early the morning of Jan. 13.
“It’s basically a 40-hour work week,” Harris said. “We started Monday, have worked on it every day this week, and we’ll be working on it all day Saturday.
“The nice thing for the students on this show is that, when working on an extremely tight deadline, it gives them a more intense learning experience.”
That the producers of “The Musical Adventures of Flat Stanley” selected Avila students to build their set said a lot about the theatre department here, Harris said.
“I know that it means that, when the students were working last year, they had a strong work ethic,” he said. “The program is here for them to make what they want to make it.
“Students come here because they know they can get as much hands-on experience as they want. That’s how they learn. It’s how they get better.”
It all comes back to Harris’ favorite word, he said.
“For students here, it’s all about opportunity.”
Avila University is a private, co-educational, values-based liberal arts institution founded by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, offering undergraduate, graduate, and adult degree programs. Avila University is located at 119th and Wornall Rd in southwest suburban Kansas City, Mo.