Shasta College's New Theater Arts Instructor, Gregory Thorson
● By Jon Lewis
By Jon Lewis
Photo: Erin Claassen
Gregory Thorson was a kindergartner when he saw a professional stage production of Shakespeare’s “Macbeth.” He remembers being thrilled by the swordplay. And he remembers a 5-year-old discovering a lifelong passion for theater.
That passion remains 31 years later, only now it has been fortified by a master’s and a doctorate in theater, fueled by several years of professional experience and now fully engaged in Shasta College’s Theater Department.
Thorson, 36, has completed two semesters as Shasta College’s only full-time theater arts instructor and he says he’s still thankful for the opportunity.
For one, the job market is tough—Thorson says he applied for 60 positions in a two-year period and the Shasta vacancy attracted 80 applicants—so he feels lucky to be in a school setting. And as a native of Medford and a graduate of the University of Oregon in Eugene, he developed a keen appreciation for the outdoors.
“I feel like it’s a really good fit. I enjoy teaching at the community college level. You get students with a lot of diverse backgrounds,” says Thorson, who taught for a year at a community college in Denver after earning his master’s and doctorate from the University of Colorado in Boulder.
Thorson divides his time between classroom instruction and directing. In his first year, he directed “The Miracle Worker” and “As You Like It.” He is currently directing Mel Brooks’ “The Producers,” which opens July 7 for a three-week run.
“I really enjoy the classroom and I love theater history,” Thorson says, “but I also love directing; I directed my first play when I was 17. It’s almost like an academic study or giving on-stage lessons.”
Hilary Fahey, an adjunct instructor who has been Shasta College’s costume designer for the past six years, appreciates Thorson’s style on stage and in the classroom. “He’s very calm, which I think is very important in theater, and he’s very professional and well organized. Everything he does circles back to pedagogy: He is a teacher and he’s there to teach all students about theater.”
As a director, Thorson’s encouraging demeanor inspires more students to audition for roles and helps them develop their acting skills when they get on stage, Fahey says. “I’ve seen him draw out some great performances from his students.”
Shasta College student and up-and-coming actor Blake Fisher, last seen as Bert in the Cascade Theatre production of “Mary Poppins,” says Thorson has improved his understanding of theater.
“He has been able to open our eyes to the terminology and vocabulary needed to be on stage. I enjoy his take on finding the humor in scenes and I have been able to understand the tactics of contrasting a scene and character,” says Fisher, who has been cast as Leo Bloom in “The Producers.”
Mat McDonald, an adjunct instructor at Shasta who focuses on hair and makeup, says Thorson’s professional experience, including directing off-Broadway plays for New York’s Roundabout Theatre Co. and a stint with the Colorado Shakespeare Festival as an administrator, dramaturge and assistant director, adds to his credibility.
“He has recent experience in professional theater, so he knows what is needed there, and I think he will be a good bridge for people who may want to make theater a career,” McDonald says.
Thorson made strides in expanding his students’ experience by involving Shasta in the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival. This network of more than 600 schools provides for outside assessments of student productions that culminates in the awarding of Irene Ryan Acting Scholarships.
A pair of instructors from Humboldt State University selected Fisher, Marissa Cozens and Christian Crozier to the regional competition in Denver, where they performed monologues, attended a play and participated in workshops.
“It was great for them to get that experience and to see the great many types of theater that lie out there,” Thorson says. Fisher agrees: “It is such a wonderful opportunity for students involved in theater programs across the country. The days were full of workshops, classes and a competition to witness the best of the best. I was able to network and become close to students, opening up doors to schools where the next step is waiting.”
Even though he’s teaching four classes a semester and has another four classes revolving around stage productions, Thorson says he’s eager to continue building the theater program. He’s hopeful “The Producers” will continue the school’s growth.
Thorson picked the popular musical “because it’s hysterical. Mel Brooks knows satire. He walks that fine line between offensive, humorous and enlightening.” The spoof about a Broadway show also stars Bob Koroluck as shady producer Max Bialystock.
Thorson says tapping the talents of community members like Koroluck and Elsie Ritchie and Ragan Ragan (who both performed in “The Miracle Worker”) reinforce Shasta College’s role as a learning institution and a community theater.
“I’d like the community to see Shasta College as a place to enjoy lots of different kinds of theater, as a place to come and see good plays done well.”
“The Producers” will be performed at 7 pm July 7-9, 14-16 and 21-23, with 2 pm matinees July 10 and July 17