Theatre Department adapts to changes following the loss of two professors


Colbie Fairley

After the leave of both Professor Tom Heiman and Assistant Professor Emily Kasprzak in Jan 2021, the department has had to step up in supporting the program. Adjustments made include the hiring of graduate student Sarah DaMetz and transitioning some of the responsibilities to Professor of Music and Chair of the Department of Music and Theatre Trillia Lyerla.

Within the last year, the Baker University Theatre Department has seen a lot of change and turmoil. At the end of the 2020-2021 school year, Associate Professor Tom Heiman retired and was followed by Assistant Professor Emily Kasprzak leaving Baker in January of 2022.

With both professors gone from the department, other staff members and students have had to pitch in anywhere they can.

Trillia Lyerla, professor of music and chair of the department of music and theatre, has stepped in to fill any holes left from the departures.

“We scrambled to get someone in to assist with the musical that we performed during January. We needed a theater professor to block it and she graciously stayed for an entire week before departing. We were able to hire a graduate assistant who has been a former student, she filled in,” Lyerla said.

Even with all these changes, Lyerla said she has not had to take on any more responsibilities than what she normally has had to in the past. She adds that she is there to support the seniors and help them in any way possible as they continue preparing for their senior show scheduled in April.

Senior theatre major Barry Baker is getting ready for his senior project of lighting the spring show.

Baker has been involved in the theatre department for five years. He said it was very jarring to hear Kasprzak was leaving, and he did not feel he had enough time with her.

“We were automatically in a panic because she was the only person left in the department,” Baker said.

As a senior, Baker has had to take on a leadership role and support the other students during this time. As well as being there for his peers, Baker’s responsibilities in the department have increased as well.

“I’m pretty much doing a lot of the events, taking over all the aspects. Usually, I would just focus on lighting and we’d have other people working on sound and stuff, but with the whole change, it kind of just left me by myself. I picked up everything that wasn’t able to be done by Kenzie [Kuhlmann] or Dr. Lyerla, or somebody else in the department,” Baker said.

Baker also shared the impact this is having on other students and how difficult it has been on younger students, specifically.

“[Underclassmen] had a normal experience with Emily, and now that we don’t have any professors, nobody has an expected outcome of the theatre department. There’s just no one there to lead us and everyone is just in a standstill, like ‘what are we going to now,’ because there is no direction to go into,” Baker said.

With the help of the music department and the students, Lyerla still needed some extra help and hired a graduate assistant, Sarah DaMetz, who helped with the interterm show and will assist with the spring show.

“Professor Kasprzack got the ball rolling, but had to leave in the middle of the production for an amazing job opportunity. She brought me in to finish directing the show,” DaMetz said. “I ran rehearsals, staged and blocked a few scenes that Professor Kasprzack hadn’t gotten to and got to collaborate with colleagues and students.”

While the spring show is mostly being run by seniors involved in the theatre department, DaMetz is there to lend a helping hand.

“If they have questions about anything, or they need a problem solved, that is when they come to me. We meet weekly to talk about how they are feeling, their progress and what still needs to be done. I’ll also be observing rehearsals weekly to see how things are coming along and to cheer them on towards success,” DaMetz said.

DaMetz adds that it is her job to give the next theatre professor a clean canvas and all the tools possible to make a beautiful painting out of the theatre department.

“My goal is to make sure that whoever comes in as the new theatre professor has a really strong foundation to create something incredible,” DaMetz said.

An active search for a new professor has been going on since the job listing was posted on Baker’s website on Jan. 6 and Lyerla has received many applicants.

“We are advertising it as a theater generalist position. Someone who could do some of the things the former Tom Heiman could do. Also, some of the things Emily could do,” Lyerla said.

As the theatre department endures a shakeup, Lyerla is still looking towards the future and still auditioning potential high schoolers who may want to call Baker their home, despite having no theatre professor. 

“We’ve had some kids auditions, that’s a little of a challenge when there is not a theatre person per se on staff. That has been a challenge, but we have auditioned some really talented theater students and we are hopeful they will come to Baker University,” Lyerla said.

Along with continuing to recruit students, Lyerla and the music and theatre department have used this unexpected time to reflect on the department’s choices.

“Anytime something like this happens, it gives us an opportunity to look at what we can do differently, what we can do better. There is some conversation about maybe not [doing] a musical every year,” Lyerla said.

Baker wants to see the theatre department thrive and have a new professor who values the same things the students do and is able to help them grow.

“I’m hoping that we are able to get someone in who has the same outlook like Emily and Tom did, making sure that the students are putting academics first and theatre second,” Baker said.

Baker hopes that the theatre department can continue to be what it has been for years: a welcoming place for students to go when they are struggling or just need to relax.

The theatre department will be showcasing its spring play, “’Night, Mother,” in Darby-Hope Theatre. “’Night, Mother” will be performed April 21 through April 23 and April 28 through April 29 at 7:30 p.m each night. There will be an additional afternoon matinee on April 30 at 2 p.m.