Each year the BIC invites a BIC alum to return to campus for Homecoming and share a lecture with our students, faculty, and alumni. This year our alumni lecturer will not have to come far–only across campus. We are very excited that John-Michael Marrs (’04), assistant professor in the department of theatre arts at Baylor, will be our featured alumni speaker. We recently interviewed Professor Marrs to learn more about what he has been doing since graduating from Baylor and to learn more about his recent return to Baylor. We hope you enjoy the interview, and we hope you join us for the lecture on October 23 at 2:45pm in the beautiful new Paul L. Foster Campus for Business and Innovation, room 143-144. Professor Marrs will speak on the topic “Art and Interruption: Living the Examined Life.”
What year did you graduate from Baylor? What did you study?
I graduated in 2004, with a Bachelor of Arts in Theatre.
You recently returned to Baylor as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Theatre Arts. Tell us a little about what you were doing while you were away from Baylor.
I often share with students that our job as actors is to audition. The bulk of my time after Baylor was spent doing just that. My first audition after undergrad—a unified audition in Chicago for dozens of theatres—was primarily for the purpose of finding a graduate program in acting. I had a fairly short list of preferred programs and was fortunate to be one of eight selected by my top choice: the Alabama Shakespeare Festival. I spent two years in residence with the company in Montgomery training and taking classes during the day; rehearsing, understudying, and performing at night. We kept a pretty rigorous schedule—six days a week, year-round, for two years. I think outside of having every Monday off we had something like eleven days vacation during that time. I loved it. I graduated in 2007 with my MFA in acting; membership in the professional union, Actors’ Equity Association; and an agent in New York. I had every intention of moving directly to the City immediately following grad school, but I was approached by Baylor Theatre Chair, Dr. Stan Denman, about a visiting professorship at Baylor for the fall. I taught six sections. I should’ve been entirely burnt out, but I don’t think I’d ever been happier. I fell completely in love with it. With the exception of acting, I’ve never been so fulfilled professionally. I moved to New York and began working as an actor in January of 2008 and lived in and around the City for the next five years. In addition to working off-Broadway and with various theatres in New York, I was fortunate to act with companies around the country like the Shakespeare Theatre in D.C., Pioneer Theatre Company, and the Denver Center for the Performing Arts. I continued my relationship with my agent and slowly built a resume and reputation, but I never forgot that semester teaching at Baylor.
What made you want to return to Baylor as a faculty member? What have you enjoyed most about being back at Baylor?
I maintained a close connection with the faculty and staff at Baylor Theatre in the ten or so years I was away. They moved from mentors, to friends, to peers. Those relationships have made this a place I always missed and enjoyed visiting. My experience in the BIC and the opportunities afforded me as a student only affirmed that. And then there’s the faculty. Examples like Drs. Stan Denman, Tom Hanks, Lenore Wright, and DeAnna Toten Beard (among others) all shaped me. They became the people I wanted to be when I grew up. They still are. Now I have the added privilege of calling them colleague. There is no place like Baylor and certainly no place like Texas. It’s good to be home.
As a theatre arts major during undergrad, how did BIC contribute to your overall education? Has it contributed to your life/career since graduating from Baylor?
It is so rare that one plays an actor or theatre artist onstage. Most times, we’re portraying individuals from a wide array of historical periods and cultural contexts, often ones quite different from our own. The emphasis on and appreciation of diversity within the BIC contributed tremendously to my development not only as an actor, but also as a functional member of society. That has been particularly helpful as a theatre maker (and one living for several years in New York). The fact that I was trained early to value cultural difference rather than fear or avoid it has had an invaluable impact on my life and work. Empathy adds depth to what I do—both as an actor and as an instructor—and I suspect most careers are the same.
Do you have a favorite memory from your time in BIC?
I loved visiting the Hindu temple in Austin and the Jewish congregations here in Waco. As painful as it was at the time, I have fond memories of my sophomore year and of Augustine’s City of God. I will never forget being called “colleague” by Tom Hanks for the first time—so many positive memories involve him! In general, I just remember feeling heard. My opinions, my perspectives, my narrative, my contributions were valued. That is an incredibly empowering thing at any age, but especially as a young adult. I felt part of a community wrestling with some really interesting questions.
Is there something you learned in BIC that still sticks with you today?
Respect. Valuing differences in thought and belief, and knowing agreement is never a prerequisite of courtesy or kindness.
What are your goals for the future?
At the moment? Tenure. I am one year and a few weeks into that process and learning more daily! I am also beginning rehearsal for a two-person show in which I play a young C.S. Lewis, so I am enjoying that work and research. I would like to ultimately be regarded as someone whom students feel they can trust and rely on for support. Other than that, learning to make decent macaroons with my girlfriend ranks pretty high on the list.
Do you have any advice for current BIC students?
Nurture your relationships. Two of my former roommates (and fellow BIC alumni) are still my best friends. This is a special time and a singular experience—cherish the people who understand it and who will stretch you personally and professionally.
Also… read Augustine.
Is there anything else you would like to share?
Be kind to yourself and remember this is a process. You don’t have to have all the answers right now. Having even a few of the questions is a great place to start.