One of the main goals for our Theatre Education Community is to help theatre students and professionals from all over connect and identify with each other in order to build resources and support the theatre education field. We shine a spotlight on a different member every other week by conducting a simple interview.
Our next spotlight is Thomas “Mack” Dugger, an EdTA professional member. Mack is the very definition of a “Renaissance Man,” with experience in film, television and on stage. He has taught for over 31 years and been a stunt/swordfighter for more than 20 years. He has worked as a radio DJ, volunteered for the Red Cross for three decades, and even officiates weddings. Mack’s positive and practical advice has been a valuable addition to the Community.
Why do you believe theatre is important?
“Theatre,” in the words of George Bernard Shaw, “holds up a mirror to society.” While we may not like what we see, it does us good to take a look at who we are and what we are becoming. Participation in theatre helps round out a person. By participating, we learn about ourselves, discover hidden abilities and also learn control, empathy, and the joy of connecting to a playwright, who speaks to others through us. Theatre helps complete us as human beings. Actually, all art does that, but theatre has a visceral component. When you see an actor performing on a stage, you often connect with that person/character. You become involved emotionally. It affects you and causes you to ponder what you have experienced, and can challenge your previously held ideas. Theatre can change society!
What is your greatest challenge?
My greatest challenge is not letting things get me down. I try to keep an upbeat attitude for my students and myself. Educational theatre really has its ups and downs. Educational theatre is at the whim of budget, administration, enrollment and student enthusiasm. My challenge is to find a way through all the whims that get in the way and yet continue to teach this wonderful, exciting fulfilling art form.
Tell us about the best day of your career.
There are several. Most involve the moment a student “gets it.” Several times I’ve been working with a Drama class, helping them learn and grasp a difficult aspect of acting, when a student on stage suddenly “gets it.” You see that lightbulb go on and the excitement of discovery floods a student’s face. The class sees it, too, and that’s exciting!
Of course, it’s always wonderful to be rewarded and recognized in one’s career for the long hours of rehearsal and the endless details of putting on plays. I have been privileged to win both the LA Music Center Bravo Award and the Creative Ticket Award from the Kennedy Center.
What is the resource you most recommend to others in your profession?
It’s become the Internet! You can find pretty much anything you need for a production online. I’m also a great fan of Debbie’s Book. It’s the best sourcebook for everything needed for a production. (It’s online too.)
Weirdest stage food you’ve ever eaten?
It has to be stage ice cream! It was made from very stiff, tasteless mashed potatoes that I had to eat while performing a scene. I had to be careful because they were so dry that they sucked the moisture right out of my mouth.
What playwright would you love to have lunch with?
Either Oscar Wilde or William Shakespeare. I would ask each, "What's the biggest challenge facing you when you create a play?” With Oscar, I'd ask about The Importance of Being Earnest and with Will, I would ask about King Lear or Macbeth. I’d also want to know, "What drove you to write these plays?” and “Which is your favorite of all of your plays?"
Everyone has at least one good theatre story. Tell us yours.
During our production of Joseph and The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, we had a large group of young women who were the production’s dancers. During the scene with the Pharaoh/Elvis, the dancers were “background” and some were flirting with the Pharaoh. The costumer had gotten a bunch of braided and beaded Egyptian-style wigs that were perfect. We told the women to put up their hair in tight ringlets and use wig-style bobby pins. Unfortunately, all they remembered were the words “bobby pins.” They used regular bobby pins to hold on these rather substantial wigs. During the Pharaoh scene the choreography required head rolls and tight pirouettes, and… centrifugal force removed all 19 of the wigs and sent them spinning across the stage in different directions. It resembled large attacking spiders!! The audience first screamed, then laughed and applauded. The dancers did a good job of corralling the wayward wigs/spiders, and brought large wig bobby pins for the next evening.
Another good one: During the production of Joseph and The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, I could not get a boy to commit to playing the Pharaoh/Elvis character, so I asked a former student if he would please take on the role. Most of the women in the cast thought he was cute, but were too shy to speak to him (9 years difference at least). However, during rehearsal, one of the pharaoh dancers and the former student who played the pharaoh struck up a conversation. The former student graduated in 1990 and the pharaoh dancer was graduating that spring in 1999. Any way it came out that the dancer had broken up with her boyfriend and had no date to the prom. Kevin, the Pharaoh, asked if he could take her (everyone in the cast had a date to prom, even the two 9th graders). They went to the prom together and continued to date after Sarah's graduation, even through four years of college and such (Kevin is a working actor). Fourteen years later, they married on the same spot in the Little Theatre where they first met, and they had me perform the ceremony. They've been married four years and have a three-year-old son. How's that for affecting lives?
What was the first play you ever saw?
It was Showboat performed at the University of Florida in Gainesville. The irony of this is that, sixteen years later, I performed two roles in the Augsburg Stadt Opera’s production of Showboat in Augsburg, Germany.
What was the first role you ever played?
My first role was in 8th grade, when I played a reporter in my junior high play. I didn’t realize, until years later, that I was the love interest in the show!! Duh!
Name something on your bucket list.
The top of my Bucket List is to get my private pilot’s license. However, I also have two items listed under ‘sweaty fantasies’ – 1. Performing on stage with Lin-Manuel Miranda and 2. Getting a backseat ride with the USAF Thunderbirds!
What is your proudest accomplishment?
That would definitely be seeing what my former students are doing out in the real world. Some are lawyers, stage and television actors, designers, producers, scientists, doctors, pilots, stage managers, policemen, firemen, etc. In ALL cases, theater truly had a huge effect on their lives. I’ve heard (and continue to hear) this from them and their parents. Yes, many, many stay in touch, which is pretty cool.
If you could have a different career what would you choose?
I’d be a full-time actor, or a pilot!
Do you have any hobbies or interests outside of theatre?
Yes, I really enjoy reading and hiking. I also fence, which has led me into stage combat/stunt work. I work with a group called Sword Fights, Inc. We perform live, in movies and onstage, and also help video game producers.
What is something we would be surprised to learn about you?
I am a thirty-year volunteer with the American Red Cross, including serving as their Incident Commander for First Aid during the 2018 and 2019 Pasadena Rose Parades.
Mack with Lady Gaga, who stopped by a Red Cross shelter during the Woolsey fire in California to boost the residents’ spirits
What is your favorite play?
It’s hard to select just one. However, I really enjoy Henry IV in which I have played Falstaff. I find him to be one of the fullest and most complete characters Shakespeare ever created (or copied!).
What is your favorite part(s) of the day?
The early morning when the day feels fresh and new, and the early evening when all is settling down.
If you could live anywhere in the world, where would you go and why?
Greece! I want to see all of it and stand in the Theatre of Dionysus to see if I can hear the voices of past actors. I want to be where so much of society began.
What toy do you most remember from your childhood?
That would be Lester, my teddy bear that I got for my first Christmas. Yes, I still have him.
What was the most difficult element of a production you’ve had to manage?
That would be the swordfights in a play. When we did Macbeth, we didn’t have a lot of boys for the play, so we made it an Amazon Tale with women taking all the major roles --and more. We did get enough boys to be the evil invaders and they had some really wild fights. I had two outside stunt coordinators come in to help with the fights. The women loved being Amazons, wearing armor, fighting, and getting to be real “badasses.”
What is the best advice anyone has ever given to you?
“Let it go” (source: Tommy Tune) & “Breathe!”
If you enjoyed Mack’s interview as much as we did, add him as a contact in the Community.
Do you know someone who deserves a moment in the Spotlight? Tell me their name and why at firstname.lastname@example.org. Want to read more Community Spotlights? You can find them here.