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Putting the 'spotlight' on NMSU theatre arts department head

The angst and melodrama that go along with being a teenager inspired a New Mexico State University professor's theatre career. An eighth grade acting class and strong mentorship through high school encouraged him to pursue acting and eventually directing.

New Mexico State University theatre arts professor and department head Tom Smith sits in the Hershel Zohn Theatre. (NMSU Photo by Daniella De Luca)

"I was an overdramatic yet very shy kid," Tom Smith admits, although you wouldn't be able to tell it now.

His dedication to theatre arts is apparent through serving almost 10 years in various leadership roles including his first semester as theatre arts department head at NMSU's College of Arts and Sciences.

"I've made some creative decisions about how the department and our production season function, with help from my incredible faculty," Smith said. Over the fall semester, a few cosmetic changes were made to Hershel Zohn Theatre including a newly painted lobby, and season productions extended to a third weekend to better accommodate patrons.

Smith earned his Masters of Fine Arts from the University of Missouri-Kansas City and became a freelance director, traveling the country for five years before guest directing at NMSU. As a native of Washington, the weather and southwest culture captured his interest, and he was inspired to apply for a permanent full-time position at NMSU.

"I was fortunate to find a school that needed the exact qualifications I had and one that allowed me to grow both as an artist and as an academic," he said. Smith remains optimistic for the future of the program, especially with the first steps towards building the NMSU Arts Complex.

"The theatre department is a direct beneficiary of the first phase (of the Arts Complex building plan), and next year's freshmen will graduate having been on the new stage and in the new space," Smith said. "We'll be able to do shows we can't do in our current space, while also providing our students experience with state-of-the-art technologies that will help them in their career goals." He and other arts department heads serve on a planning committee with the university architects and give input on the project, for example, the selection of supplies and equipment and room placement in relation to the stage.

Smith serves as the managing director for the American Southwest Theatre Company and has been a member of the faculty since 1999. He authored a book "The Other Blocking" scheduled to come out in February about the art of improvisation in acting.