Learning from a Star: Clarence Gilyard

Whether or not you know him by name, you know Clarence Gilyard and his iconic work. Gilyard made his mark in some of the most popular TV shows of the ’80s and ’90s, including as James Trivette in Walker, Texas Ranger, Conrad McMasters in Matlock, and Benjamin Webster in CHIPs; performed in blockbuster movies such as Die Hard and Top Gun; and much more during his long, successful career as an actor, director, producer, author, and educator.

During the Fall 2019 semester, Southeastern theatre students had the opportunity to learn directly from the legendary actor. Gilyard, who is also currently an associate professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, stayed on Southeastern’s campus in The Inn (the former President’s Residence) while teaching a class titled Acting for a Living as a visiting professor and guest directing the Vonnie Borden Theatre production of Anton Chekhov’s Three Sisters.

Clarence Gilyard

James Winter, associate professor of theatre and artistic director of the Columbia Theatre and Fanfare, was instrumental in bringing Gilyard to Southeastern. “Clarence and I met in 2013 while working on a film called The Beast which is now on Amazon Prime,” Winter said. “As a fellow artist and educator, we immediately hit it off. I wanted him to come to Southeastern as a guest artist and lecturer. He knew I wrote textbooks and wanted to collaborate on an acting book.”

Three Sisters cast members Sarah Easley (back row), Payton Core (front left), and Megan Blonquist (front right) with Guest Director Clarence Gilyard.

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Three Sisters cast members Sarah Easley (back row), Payton Core (front left), and Megan Blonquist (front right) with Guest Director Clarence Gilyard.

The book that the two men are collaborating on will have the same name as the class that Gilyard taught at Southeastern—Acting for a Living—and aims to teach actors how to continue to grow, learn, and train when they are not in the classroom or in rehearsals, as well as help actors continue to develop their characters and grow as artists while in a long run or touring show.

Students were energized by the chance to learn from Gilyard, who helped them grow in their craft. “I certainly think he challenged our students with his approach and the difficulties presented by his choice of play to direct. Chekhov is tough stuff. He brings a lot of positive energy with him,” said Winter.

Clarence GilyardStage Manager Amy Schneida also commented on how Gilyard’s time at Southeastern impacted students. “There was definitely a buzz of excitement amongst the students of the Theatre Department when Jim told us we would be having a special guest director that had Hollywood experience. All of our actors took this opportunity very seriously, but I noticed our veteran actors especially stepping up their game when it came to research and character analysis. However, I was most impressed by our newcomers to the department. A majority of our cast was composed of very young actors, with little to no prior performance experience under their belt. Watching them start from square one and grow to be on par with our veteran actors and actresses was absolutely phenomenal.”

While Gilyard’s term on campus is now over, the theatre program at Southeastern regularly brings in guest directors—enriching hands-on student learning through different perspectives and experiences, new challenges, and invigorating opportunities to learn from some of the best in the field.

By Sheri Gibson

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