Alison Vasquez ’09, an instructor of theatre at San Antonio College who returned to campus this summer to direct the Little Theatre of the Rockies’ production of Simply Simone, says returning to UNC has been life-changing.
“When David [Grapes] approached me to direct for LTR, I was super humbled,” Alison said. “I did two seasons of LTR myself as an actress when I was a student and it was my first realization of what professional theatre can really be. So, I knew coming back to UNC meant not only would I be working with students, but that I would be able to pour into their lives.”
After graduating from UNC, Alison trained with the Royal Shakespeare Company and performed as company member and director with the CP Repertory Theater Company for seven years.
“My mentors, Tom [McNally] and David Grapes, encouraged me in a way that fostered my continual growth even after I left UNC, and I love that,” Alison said. “They kept tabs on me. I would never have considered grad school if not for them.”
Alison returned to UNC this summer after Grapes, the Little Theatre of the Rockies’ producing artistic director, contacted her to direct a new musical revue about the life of jazz icon and civil rights activist, Nina Simone.
“I was excited that David chose Simply Simone as one of the shows for this season,” Alison said. “I’m really excited to tell her story … it’s a universal story. Nina Simone was a spitfire definitely, but she also has a very specific historical component to who we are as a society.”
Four UNC students and recent grads; (from left to right above) Brianna Faulk, Jalen Taylor, Kourtney Bellard '17 and Theresa Kellar portray Simone at different stages in her life.
“I was just really excited to work with these young ladies,” Alison said. “They are incredibly talented, and I love that they have found a home here and received incredible training. They’ve been able to spread their wings and tell this story in a truthful manner, because UNC has been able to open its arms to all students of color and all backgrounds and all sexual orientations. We are a more diverse campus than when I was a student here, and I think that speaks to not just being more open, but also saying ‘hey, we’re here for everyone,’ and I love that.”
Alison admits she was a little apprehensive about returning to work as director with many of her former professors and mentors in supportive roles.
“As a guest artist returning as an alum, I didn’t know how those relationships would evolve,” Alison said. “But I was treated like the professional that I am and we were able to work together in such a professional way, and I loved that.”
Alison recommends all alumni, and especially younger alums, return to campus and experience UNC in that new light.
“This experience, returning to campus, has been life giving,” Alison said. “It’s still my university. It’s still my home. It’s really important for all alumni to know our campus is moving and shaking and to continue to find a way to support the campus, pay it forward, let people know about the programs here, come take a tour of campus, see your old professors … it’s one thing to say ‘I gave 10 bucks’ or whatever, it’s another thing to come back and remember why you fell in love with this place and remember why it’s important to support the next generation here. They need us.”
Alison says the element she loved most about coming back was that feeling of paying it forward.
“I was able to honor Tom McNally and David Grapes and Anne Toewe, and all the professors that poured into me and to say 'you paved the way for me to do this,'" Alison said. "I would encourage all alumni to not only be involved but to come and say 'I’m investing in the future of the students because I was so blessed by those who went before me.'"
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