Directing a musical production. Starting a job somewhere new. Being an educator during a pandemic. All three of these things by themselves are challenges, but add all of these situations together and it may seem like an all-too-daunting undertaking. That is unless you’re Tom Alsip, the new assistant professor for the University of New Hampshire (UNH) Theater Department and this year’s director of the university’s mainstage show “I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change.”
For nearly all his life theater has had a large presence in Alabama-native Tom Alsip’s life, from a childhood filled with musical cast recordings to his introduction to acting at the age of seven: “From that moment on, I was hooked,” recounted Alsip.
Afterward, his love of theater only grew as he continued to partake in youth and community productions both as an actor and a director, eventually leading to Alsip’s acceptance into New York University’s (NYU) musical theatre program and earning? a BFA in theater. His time at NYU afforded him directorial experience both in class and through opportunities in the theater department. “Directing gives you tremendous artistic ownership of a production,” says Alsip, “And yet, it is also the most collaborative job in theatre. You are tasked with guiding the creative process to its fruition. And that is a tremendous amount of responsibility. But it is also an incredible challenge.”
Following a decade of professional acting work in New York City, Alsip returned to Alabama to pursue an MFA in directing. Alongside his passion for directing, Alsip found another love while pursuing his master’s at the University of Alabama: teaching others.
“…Nothing is more rewarding than teaching for me,” says Alsip. “Passing on what I learned to the next generation of theatre makers and seeing their growth and success fills me with such pride.”
As a result, Alsip’s career shifted to teaching and directing at the university level, while directing professional shows during the summers.
With his wide range of experience in the world of theater, Alsip finds himself able to view shows from multiple perspectives.
“I have had the pleasure to engage in theatre from many different areas. I still enjoy watching theatre as a member of the audience,” says Alsip. “I spent most of my career performing, and that is how I still initially relate to new plays or musicals. And now I find that I love directing more than any other element.”
As he worked, Alsip sought to teach at a university where he could make an impact: “Once I got into teaching, I knew that my long-term goal was to find a strong musical theatre program that I could join and help continue to grow and evolve,” says Alsip. As luck would have it, UNH became the school he was looking for.
“The students here are extremely talented,” says Alsip. “I love the structure of the program. My expertise is in acting in musical theatre, and this program allows students to explore their work as actors who sing and dance, which puts an emphasis on musical theatre performers as actors. That helps them connect with their characters in a way that I think best serves the artform.”
From the get-go, COVID-19 has provided a unique set of challenges for Alsip during his time in UNH’s theater department so far.
“In the classroom, we have had to think outside of the box to make sure we are giving the students the training they need, but in a way that is safe,” says Alsip. “It has forced us to be creative.”
Such creativity has been a necessity for the theater department since the beginning of the school year. Given necessary safety measures, the mainstage musical, one of the biggest events for the theater department each year, has needed to be reworked, including choosing a new show to produce that could balance safety with quality. Thus “I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change” will serve as Tom Alsip’s directorial debut at UNH, a streamed recording performed in a concert-esque manner with stationary mics.
During these stressful and socially-distant times, Alsip has found motivation in teaching through his students as well welcoming support from the theater department.
“The students are incredibly talented and driven and WANT to learn,” says Alsip. “That is all you can ask for as a teacher. The other faculty members are extremely helpful, going out of their way to give me all the information I need and to answer any questions I have about the university and our work.”
Even as snow days, the swift shift to orange mode and other difficulties have arisen, Alsip regards the cast and crew of “I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change” with pride: “…Through all those changes and difficulties, the cast and crew thrived.”
Despite the challenges caused by COVID-19, Alsip sees the pandemic as a learning opportunity for his students at the university.
“These are all helpful learning experiences for young actors who need to learn about performing in these alternate styles,” says Alsip. “So, this past year has given them a plethora of experiences in these alternative performance modes. But I do look forward to when we can get back to sharing a stage.”
This may be one of the most difficult times in recent history to be an educator as well as a thespian, yet Director Tom Alsip has managed to approach his first year at UNH with much-needed flexibility, open-mindedness, as well as a positive outlook toward his students in the theater department and his cast. No doubt this is a promising start to his career here at the university.
Tickets for “I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change” are available through the UNH ticket office https://unh.universitytickets.com/ , airing from March 3rd-March 7th at 7:00 PM with a Sunday matinee.
Special thanks to Assistant Professor and Director Tom Alsip for his time.
Photo courtesy of COLA Faculty, UNH.