From pulling curtains to teaching crafts

April 23, 2012 2:30 AM2 comments

Photos by Alyssa Martin, staff photographer


John Pomeroy, known simply as “Roy” to most Drake University faculty and students, has been at Drake for nearly 19 years, hired right after he earned his master of the fine arts at the University of Iowa. Technical theater design was a profession that came naturally to Pomeroy, a native of Bettendorf, Iowa. He recalls his first experience working behind the scenes as a sophomore in high school, filling in for a missing crewmember. He only had to wait for his friend’s signal to pull the rope that lifted the stage curtain, but as soon as that signal came, Pomeroy was hooked.

Fate once again had a hand in Pomeroy’s technical career when he began his undergraduate program at St. Ambrose University in Davenport, Iowa, originally as a double major in theater design and TV/radio production, which were both housed in the Fine Arts Building.

Upon entering the building at St. Ambrose, Pomeroy encountered an older gentleman carrying a gigantic ladder. Offering to help, Pomeroy carried the ladder into the theater and knew he belonged there. The older man, who turned out to be one of the professors, offered Pomeroy a work-study position as a technical assistant on the spot.

“The rest is history,” Pomeroy said.

Pomeroy’s current job as an associate professor of theater arts incorporates three important positions within the theater department: professor of theatre for the Department of Theater Arts, technical director for the Department of Theater Arts and technical director for the School of Fine Arts.

Pomeroy said his first love is education and he considers the teaching aspect of his job as his top priority.

“To be actually able to hold a job where I can teach what I love is better than anything I could imagine,” Pomeroy said.

Especially when it comes to teaching Stagecraft I and II, in which students complete lab hours in the scene shop located in the Fine Arts Center. There, Pomeroy oversees the building of sets and rigging of the light systems for Drake performances.

Pomeroy describes his teaching tactic as leading by example.

“I strive to make this not just a shop class. I try to tie in everything students learn in craft courses with the goal of the play they’re building for,” Pomeroy said. “To make them see why a set piece is important and help students take part in the class. So that they can go and see the play and see what they had a hand in making.”

In running the scene shop, Pomeroy is responsible for all the technical aspects for performances, such as construction of sets, creation of special effects and light design.

No matter which performance hall is in use, Pomeroy provides all the upkeep and maintenance for all of the stages and their lighting controls. This encompasses his role in not just the department of theater arts, but also the school of fine arts as a whole.

Pomeroy describes his style of teaching as that of an “anti-professor.” He hopes to be seen by his students beyond the academic realm.

“I create friendships with my students that carry beyond school,” Pomeroy said. “Even beyond graduation — we’re friends for life.”

Forrest Williams, a senior directing major who works as a technical assistant to Pomeroy in the scene shop, describes him as a successful professor at reaching out to students.

“Roy is a good professor and teaches his students well in a different kind of style. He gets them to work by being friendly and speaking to them on equal terms. You know he is a superior, but he never pulls rank over the students,” Williams said.

Williams especially finds the environment of the scene shop beneficial.

“Working in the shop is more casual and more like a real work environment instead of like a classroom,” Williams said.

Ivy Gardner, a second year theater-education major, realizes Pomeroy’s aptitude about his work.

“He really knows what he’s talking about and that makes it fun,” Gardner said. “It helps that he’s relaxed and has a good sense of humor.”

This humor can be seen in Pomeroy’s fondness for Oreo cookies — a tactic some students try to use to their advantage.

“If I come into the shop and there’s a package of Oreos on my desk, I just shout, ‘Who’s in trouble?’” Pomeroy said.

Even working with non-theater majors, Pomeroy hopes to instill the same interests in them.

“They bring a different kind of interest to the class.” Pomeroy said.

Pomeroy also has no problem converting non-majors to his area of design and technology.

“I can guarantee that at least 40 percent of the design majors currently enrolled started out differently,” Pomeroy said.

Pomeroy tells of one particular convert who began as a math and physics major but changed to design and technology after taking a stagecraft course with Pomeroy.

That student went on to graduate and eventually work as an assistant production manager for the largest theater scenery company in the states. Currently that student is pursuing his graduate degree in technical directing at Yale.

Pomeroy describes what he calls his “glowing moment as a professor,” when he was able to show the scenery designs created by one alumnus for the Broadway performance of “Legally Blonde” to his current students, knowing that the work was being displayed in theaters all over.

If he was not working at Drake, Pomeroy knows he would want to teach college courses elsewhere.

“It’s the high energy that I love,” Pomeroy said. “I can thrive off of college age kids whereas I don’t have the patience for middle school kids.”

Pomeroy’s passion for his profession is what he hopes to pass on to his students.

“I want to lead by example,” Pomeroy said. “I have to make sure that I exude my desire for the work, and then students begin to enjoy what they’re doing, too.”

“What I really want everyone to get is that I love my job,” Pomeroy said.

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