Faces of GPC: Alumni take their talents across the country and around the world
by Wade Marbaugh
Since its founding as DeKalb College in 1964, Georgia Perimeter College has produced a cast of thousands of successful art, music and theater professionals. Now, those GPC alumni are practicing and sharing their crafts—on stage, backstage, in the gallery and classroom. Here we take a look at a sampling of the former GPC fine arts students who have followed their passions to become a musician, stage manager, actor, artist or composer. It’s showtime for Fine Arts alumni.
Terrence Williams is having a blast on the continent down under.
As production stage manager for the Australian national tour of the New York-based show, “Empire,” he is responsible for daily oversight of the visually striking tent show.
“During the day, I manage matters relating to the artists … at night, I oversee the show, calling cues for the technical crew and making the show run as smoothly as possible for our guests.”
When Williams studied as a theater major at GPC–then DeKalb College–in 1996-97, GPC Fine Arts Events Production Manager Jennifer Jenkins was auditorium manager, running the theater facilities and also serving as guest lecturer for stagecraft. Lee Shiver was the technical director.
“Some of the stagecraft lessons and tips I learned there still echo in my head from time to time,” Williams says. He recalls that Shiver “had an incredible vision and work ethic—long hours, passion for the work and no complaints. That really stuck with me.”
He says Jenkins made her students start with sewing “to weed out the guys who just wanted to swing hammers. Ironically, she was right—anyone on tour can swing a hammer … very few people know their way around a sewing machine.”
After leaving GPC and obtaining a bachelor’s degree from Georgia State, Williams’ production training eventually led to a job with Cirque du Soleil. He saw a newspaper classified ad while attending a wedding in Las Vegas and was interviewed, hired, packed and moved to Las Vegas within three weeks.
That became the steppingstone to many other jobs in the entertainment industry, even all the way across the Pacific to Australia.
Fortunately for Atlanta music enthusiasts, Kendall Simpson, a good high school athlete, didn’t limit himself to sports.
He discovered his music passion, found the college to nurture it and developed into a composer for productions ranging from local musicals to “Sesame Street.”
Though he didn’t begin piano classes until 11th grade, Simpson enrolled in the music program at DeKalb College (now GPC), where he studied from 1977 to 1979 before moving to the University of Georgia.
DeKalb College music instructors “took their music seriously” and challenged the students, he says.
“If it weren’t for DeKalb College, I probably wouldn’t be where I am today. They took someone who wasn’t at level and nurtured me. When I transferred to UGA, I was more than prepared for everything they threw at me there.”
After receiving a bachelor’s degree in music at UGA, Simpson spent seven years teaching music in Atlanta and at a NATO base in Germany, where he composed music for several theater performances. It was there that he caught the bug to write music.
“I had a gift for it, the theatrical situation and the music that goes with it,” he says. “I realized this was my passion—to compose.”
Simpson, music director for the dance program at Emory, has composed for many Atlanta-area productions and numerous theaters, including ongoing projects for Alliance Theater and Georgia Shakespeare Festival. He creates music for dance recitals, independent films, piano concerts, chamber ensembles and, recently, television’s “Sesame Street.”
“I’ve had this incredibly fortunate life in music,” the award-winning composer concludes. “I’ve been both lucky and prepared for it to happen, and I have to give DeKalb College a big slice of the credit.”
“Absolutely!” says Kristin Thorsen. The GPC alumna doesn’t hesitate when asked if she is on track for fulfilling her creative potential. “I am a full-time artist, selling my paintings,” she says.
That was, after all, Thorsen’s career dream when she received an associate degree from Georgia Perimeter in 1999, which she followed with her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from Atlanta College of Art.
Thorsen shows and sells her acrylic paintings in galleries, festivals and local shops. She also works with art consultants, who place her creations with private clients and in hotels and corporate buildings.
The festival circuit is rough, she says, with setting up the tent and artwork and basically camping for several days. This summer it rained steadily at seven of her eight festivals, which drives away customers.
“Almost every show, I say it’ll be the last,” Thorsen quips, but adds, “It’s really exciting to meet people face to face, answer questions and explain my process. You don’t get the opportunity to meet clients in the gallery. And I keep 100 percent of my sales at festivals.”
Her paintings receive plenty of praise at festivals and galleries—for example, last spring she earned an honorable mention at the Inman Park Festival.
Painting five or more hours daily in her home studio, she sometimes emerges from a long session “unaware of the time of day, when I ate last or even what day it is.” But a home studio also allows home life to cut into uninterrupted work time.
“Having a 3-year-old daughter has shifted my attention for now, and I’m striving for balance.”
Thorsen gives much credit for her success to Georgia Perimeter, where she was awarded a scholarship to study at an art school in Finland.
“I would say this jumpstarted my career,” she says. “Also, I had amazing teachers at GPC who really guided me into the artist I am today. They were approachable and available. This is where I got my foundation in the arts.”
Hannah Carey and Stephanie Curtis
Hannah Carey and Stephanie Curtis have separate careers, but the former GPC students both were on the road in Montana this past summer, ushering children into the magical world of theater.
“We taught life lessons through theater,” says Curtis about the summer jobs she and Carey won through a national competition.
Curtis and Carey worked with the prestigious Missoula Children’s Theater in Montana, a touring company that trains children to produce a play in a one-week summer camp.
Each week of the tour, Curtis, Carey and the staff would drive to a town, audition the kids and teach them an hour-long musical production.
“They learned blocking, songs, movement, lines, stage presence and how to have a voice on stage with confidence,” Curtis says.
How does one get a job like that?
“I went to a cattle call audition,” Curtis says. “I had 90 seconds for a monologue and song. I got a call-back and had an interview.”
Curtis graduated from Georgia Perimeter College in 2009 with an associate degree in theater. She credits the GPC staff for preparing her for the real world of theater.
“Sally Robertson helped me set up a portfolio, taught me how to audition, analyze plays and characters and helped me get a package ready,” she says. “Colin Rust taught me in acting class that it was OK to be my random quirky self. Jennifer Jenkins taught me all there is to know about stagecraft and respecting the space.”
Carey graduated from GPC in 2010 with an associate degree in theater arts. She earned a bachelor’s in theater arts from Columbus State University and soon after launched what she calls “a fledgling career.”
“I am a freelance artist,” says Carey, a native of Lawrenceville. “I perform and work as a technician—sound board operator, lighting assistant, assistant stage manager, etc.”
While at GPC and Columbus State, Carey acted in numerous productions, experience that landed her the Missoula job soon after she finished her bachelor’s degree.
“I learned how to be well-rounded at GPC,” she says. “The theater program at the Clarkston Campus of Georgia Perimeter College was top-notch when I was there.”
Carey says she had opportunities at GPC to work in the scene shop, behind the scenes and as a performer. There were opportunities that extended beyond the campus also.
“I made professional contacts through the faculty members and through guest directors and designers who came to work at the college.”
As an artist Laurence Sherr is a multi-tasker. He’s a professor of music and composer-in-residence at Kennesaw State University. Off campus, he’s a composer, performer and researcher of Holocaust music.
That’s right—Holocaust music. It may not be widely known that there was music, even orchestras, in the concentration camps maintained by Nazi Germany before and during World War II.
One function of the orchestras was to perform at the prison gate when inmates marched out to factories early in the morning as slave laborers.
Visiting the camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau, where his maternal grandmother and her sister died, Sherr learned that there were five orchestras in the complex.
Additionally, Sherr has studied the Kulturbund orchestras of Nazi Germany, Jewish orchestras formed by the Nazis prior to the war to segregate Jews from the public performing houses.
Applying this research to the classroom, Sherr teaches a class at Kennesaw State called “Music and the Holocaust.”
“It’s a window into history, sociology and politics,” he says.
Sherr’s compositions represent a range of solo, chamber ensemble and orchestral pieces. His works have been performed internationally—he estimates in about 10 countries—and in “30 or more states.” He’s won numerous awards.
After studying music at DeKalb College from 1973 to 1975, Sherr received a bachelor’s degree from Duke University and earned a master’s in music theory and a doctorate in music composition at the University of Illinois.
He freelanced in Atlanta for eight years, composing music on commission. Then he taught at Clayton State University, and he’s been at Kennesaw State since 1996.
“I’m glad I went to DeKalb College. It provided a solid musical background,” he says. Recalling the outstanding wind ensemble and his thorough training in clarinet, he adds that one professor conducted very rigorous classes in music theory.
“We started out with about 30 students, and there were only six left at the end of the program.”
After attending DeKalb College (1972-76) as a music major, Gary Goodson wound up with a career in theater. He now serves as an administrator, designer, director and actor at Cumberland Theatre in Cumberland, Md., and he also freelances at other venues.
“I had wonderful music instructors at DeKalb College. And if it hadn’t been for Jon Downs in the theater department, I know I would never have found my true calling,” says Goodson.
Goodson accompanied a fellow DeKalb College student to an audition at Alliance Theatre for a children’s theater production of Robin Hood, he says. “I was cast as Friar Tuck,” Goodson recalls. “As a result, I became a member of Actors’ Equity Association.” And a career was launched.
One of Goodson’s fellow students while at DeKalb College was Jennifer Jenkins, who is currently GPC’s Fine Arts events production manager. After college, Jenkins designed costumes for Goodson’s first production as a director, and the two worked together for the Harlequin Dinner Theatre and the Center for Puppetry Arts.
Asked if he feels he has fulfilled his potential as an artist, Goodson replies, “I learn new things about myself as an artist all the time, so I guess I’m still on the journey.”
Malcolm Alexander II
Freelance artist Malcolm Alexander II has been busy applying his art in the Athens area with a unique approach. “If events aren’t happening, I create one,” he says.
For example, he organized a juried art show benefit to raise funds for low-income people in need of suicide prevention.
“All artists were accepted, and they received handmade awards,” Alexander says. “We raised money and awareness. It’s like the lights turned on.”
Alexander graduated from GPC in 2009, attended Savannah College of Art and Design in Atlanta and graduated last year from UGA with a bachelor’s in fine arts.
‘I learned to trust myself,’ while studying art at GPC, Alexander says. “It was more than grades and learning. It was about achievement, success and becoming.’
“Don Dugan, Jolanta Paterek and Lorraine Brennan taught me lessons that still blow the minds of my colleagues, professors and gallery owners,” he says. “Share, exhaust and discover. Repeat.”
In June Alexander organized a show in which people gathered at a theater to listen to creative reel-to-reel tape recordings, and he hung work at the First Kitchen Sink Show, “an underground network of artists, poets, philosophers, musicians, scientists and such.”
He recently completed a mural at Tlaloc, a Mexican restaurant in Athens.
“Still making art and keeping busy,” he says.
Jared Brodie is what theater should call a quadruple threat—singer, actor, dancer and puppeteer. Those talents have kept the entertainer busy auditioning and obtaining gigs he discovers through websites, invitations and message boards.
Brodie landed a job this summer with the Center for Puppetry Arts production of “Brer Rabbit,” in which he filled the title role.
Majoring in theater, Brodie transferred from GPC in 2009 to Brenau University to finish his sophomore year and obtain his bachelor’s degree.
“During my years at GPC, the theater department was my home,” he says. “The faculty gave me the ability to network with theater companies—how to present myself as an artist. Before GPC, I had no knowledge of how to go about entering into this industry.”
Beverly ‘Charlie’ Moore
Freelance stage manager Charlie Moore “worked full time, around the clock, in theaters in Atlanta” and now is continuing on the same path in New York City.
“I get my jobs through interviews and auditions,” Moore says.
In the early 2000s, Moore earned her associate degree with a double major—theater and education—from Georgia Perimeter. She received her bachelor’s degree in theater and performance studies at Kennesaw State University.
“The Fine Arts department at GPC is amazing. I would not be where I am today if it were not for them.
“They taught me, trained me, loved me and guided me on my career path and as a person. This department would not be what it is without Sally Robertson and Jennifer Jenkins.”
Moore’s career credits include stage manager gigs with Actor’s Express, Synchronicity and Aurora Theatre. Recently, she was stage manager for a play at New York City’s International Fringe Festival, which features original material at multiple venues. Currently, she’s on tour with a Vital Theatre production of “Pinkalicious The Musical.”
After performing in many Southeastern theaters, actor Aaron Gotlieb is taking his act abroad.
This fall he began his quest for a master of fine arts degree in physical theater at Accademia dell’Arte in Arezzo, Italy.
“I will study the historic Italian theater styles of Commedia dell’Arte, the origin of modern comedy, circus arts, mask and movement, dance and voice,” he says. “I hope to return better able to perform, create my own works and direct, perhaps at GPC’s Theatre Arts Guild.”
Gotlieb studied theater at Georgia Perimeter from 1998 to 2001 and transferred to Columbus State University, where he obtained a bachelor of fine arts in theater.
This summer Gotlieb returned to a familiar stage, playing the Fish in Dr. Seuss’s “The Cat in the Hat” at the Center for Puppetry Arts. He’s performed there many times and says, “I have a primary focus in theater for young audiences and a specialty in puppetry.”
But don’t think “specialty” means he’s not incredibly diverse as an actor. In a recent GPC production of Molière’s famous comedy, “Tartuffe,” Gotlieb expertly played the pompous mother, Madame Pernelle, who was fooled, along with her son, by Tartuffe’s religious blasphemy.
“I have been given the opportunity to play animals, supernatural creatures, children, men, women, men pretending to be women and, once, a transgendered murderous plant,” he says.