Q&A with UM Theatre Instructor Jerrilyn Lanier

Kathy Dean ASOTA, Faculty Q&A, News

The Alabama School of the Arts at the University of Mobile offers students a 21st-century course of study with professional-level experiences in the visual and performing arts. Faculty like Jerrilyn Lanier, adjunct instructor in theatre, bring more than their professional experiences into the classroom. They bring a real love for teaching and mentoring students so UM graduates are prepared to follow their professional calling with excellence.

We asked Lanier why she teaches at UM, and what students learn through her classes.

Q. The courses you teach in the Alabama School of the Arts (ASOTA) cover a variety of topics, from costume design to makeup and hair. What is your background?

A. I hold a Bachelor of Arts in theatre from the University of Southern Mississippi and a Master of Fine Arts in costume design and production from The University of Alabama. I have done freelance wig work. I was fortunate to train in makeup and hair under acclaimed wig designer Martha Ruskai. I have designed costumes for theatre, dance and worked in film.

Q. The Alabama School of the Arts (ASOTA) is known for collaborative, experiential learning. Students take what they learn in the classroom into the real world, with professional-level performances on stage and in traveling ensembles. What are some of the real-world lessons you want your students to learn?

A. I want my students to learn an appreciation for all areas of theatre. Everyone works so hard in  each area. In Stagecraft and Intro to Design this past semester, we got to look at and experiment with all of the different areas of theatre.

Q. You were in charge of costuming for the Alabama premiere of the play “The Mayfair Affair.” How were students involved, and what do they learn through the costume design process?

A. Students in the shop work on the look of the show from beginning to end. They are vital to the process! In Dramatic Productions courses, we work on costumes/hair & makeup in the costume shop. I brought in sketches and research. Then costumes were pulled and purchased. Each performer then comes in for 1-2 fittings. In each fitting, notes are taken and alterations are performed. Right before the show, we steam the costumes to make sure they are ready for the stage.

Q. Your passion project is “Bridging the Gap,” a workshop series you created that focuses on African American hair and makeup for the theatre. Tell us about it.

A. I am so excited that Bridging the Gap is opening up conversations that need to be had in the industry. My workshops cover the basics of working with performers of color. I talk about tools, products and problems that performers of color face in the industry. For so long, these topics have been ignored. Bridging the Gap has brought these conversations to the forefront. I’ve been invited to present workshops and demonstrations at universities throughout the nation. During the pandemic, I’m continuing to give workshops through Zoom.

Q. Why do you choose to teach at the University of Mobile?

A. I love that the University of Mobile is a Christ-centered institution and that the class sizes are small. I feel like I can really reach students. The hands-on activities and projects we do in class can easily be applied to professional work. Dramatic Productions courses also give students a chance to learn new skills. Learning in class how to interpret research and pull costumes was a big help for The Mayfair Affair.

Q. Any final thoughts?

A. Whether performance or design, having a theatre degree will set you up for success. There are so many avenues you can explore with a theatre degree. In coming to UM, you will get a quality education from the professors in the department. Through all of the coursework and production work, you will get the best hands-on experience.

About the Author

Kathy Dean

Kathy Dean is associate vice president for university communications and has helped tell the University of Mobile story since 1993. She is an award-winning public relations professional and former journalist. Her husband and daughter are UM graduates. She loves playing in the yard – planting flowers, picking blueberries, pulling weeds and petting her two mini-schnauzers.