Find Your Passion: For this Actor/Director, it’s ‘All in the Timing’
By Richard LeComte
Tommy Walker stands among three actors pretending to be monkeys who, with strong New York accents, bemoan their assignment – a researcher wants them to write “Hamlet.”
The actors are pacing the rehearsal stage, their arms hanging loosely from their shoulders, as Walker moves them around the stage. He lets the actors tell him what they’d like to do; he assents and gives further suggestions. Then the actors resume the scene, a playlet called “Words Words Words” from “All in the Timing,” a popular comedy by David Ives.
Among these actors in a room within The University of Alabama’s Rowand-Johnson Hall, Walker has found his passion – directing his fellow students for a December 2012 production sponsored by the Alpha Psi Omega theatre honor society. Studying both acting and directing as a music theatre major, Walker has gained experience and insight both onstage and backstage.
“Having an extensive acting background helps me a lot in working with actors,” says Walker, a UA senior from Huntsville. “I can understand how my actors need a certain amount of ownership over what they’re doing. Directors are there to give guidelines and supplement any questions they have and lead them in the direction of our vision.”
Each year, Alpha Psi Omega, which has about 100 members, sponsors productions in which UA undergraduates get to run the show. These productions supplement the eight-show season UA’s department of theatre and dance stages. Walker, who was president of Alpha Psi Omega in 2011-2012, participates extensively in many of these student productions.
In the summer of 2012, he staged the Nicky Silver play “The Altruists.” In December 2012, his staging of “All in the Timing” involves nearly two dozen students onstage as well as a choreographer (Brittany Steelhammer), a set and lighting designer (Keegan Butler), a costumer (Katie Hooper) and many backstage staffers for a the play, staged in UA’s Allen Bales Theatre.
“I have an awesome technical team,” Walker says. “APO is getting larger and larger, and we’re getting more resources. I’m not a designer or technical person, so it s great having them to work with.”
Staging “All in the Timing” would challenge all but the most organized director and stage manager. Walker and his stage manager, Tyler Spindler, had to coordinate rehearsals of nine separate playlets among the actors, most of whom were working on other shows before the Thanksgiving holiday. Furthermore, Walker’s complex, creative staging of “All in the Timing” involves placing all the players and a small band on stage at the same time; in choreographed scene changes, they enter and exit the stage as they perform the nine playlets in the show.
“My concept for the show is to unite all of the smaller plays in one setting,” Walker says. “For the staging, I’m drawing from images from Salvador Dali’s paintings and some ‘Looney Tunes’ cartoons. I wanted to pull all these elements together to give it a kind of circus or bohemian feel.”
Such creativity requires mentoring. UA’s theatre faculty lends their expertise and support to Walker, and he’s appreciative. Seth Panitch, UA associate professor of acting, teaches acting, and Dr. Ed Williams, professor of directing and stage management, has mentored Walker in directing.
“The department has been an absolutely supportive vehicle,” Walker says. “We have some really great professors. Ed Williams is really, really supportive of me directing and my craft. I can pop my head into his office and ask him anything, and he will say, ‘Do this or do this.’ Around two years ago, I asked him, ‘Ed how do you get into directing professionally,’ and he said, ‘Well, know everything about everything, and direct as much as possible.’ Ever since then, I’ve been trying to direct as much as possible and learn everything I can.”
UA’s faculty members are high on Walker’s talent and commitment.
“Tommy is in the process of fashioning a remarkable conundrum for himself,” Panitch says. “He has developed into a fine comic actor, with laser sharp, impeccable timing, but he has managed at the same time to continually refine his eye as a director, as well.
“By working both these angles in his training, he has become a finer artist in both disciplines, which allows him a number of options when he leaves the University in May. I would also note what a joy it is to have him as a member of your company – as an actor, Tommy is forever open minded to direction and continually taking initiative on his own ideas simultaneously, which is a dynamic combination for an actor to possess.”
Walker began acting and directing in school; he cites a fifth-grade movie project as his first foray into directing. In his senior year at Sparkman High School, his peers elected him to direct a play for a competition after the theater faculty member resigned.
At UA, he’s acted in several shows, including playing the Chico Marx character in a production of “Animal Crackers.” He’s also participated in Alpha Psi Omega’s Guerrilla Theatre, a series of sketches students produce and perform at 11 p.m. on Saturdays during the school year. Both the theatre and dance department and APO have helped Walker find and live his passion for directing.
“Because of APO, we have this great atmosphere in the theatre building,” Walker says. “It’s a very supportive, and I have my APO family to help me along with anything I need.”
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This story is part of the Find Your Passion series. To learn more about how you can find your passion at The University of Alabama, please visit UA Undergraduate Admissions.