The life of an educator is a diverse one. On any given day, a teacher will put on a variety of hats according to what role is currently at hand. Melanie Mason is no exception. Though officially a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Communication, Mason can be found performing a variety of tasks: from putting the final touches on a theatrical scene to sharing an office with her fellow faculty member and husband, Dr. Dennis Maher. In addition to her extensive role on campus, Mason has also been active in the theater life of surrounding communities. She recently sat down with Communications major Benjamin Muir to shed some light on her hybrid involvement in two departments as well as some of her upcoming theater plans.
Q: You share an office with your husband. How does that work?
A: It’s awesome. It really is. We have an opposite days teaching schedule, so it’s really not a problem. But we have been in each other’s pockets for our entire relationship because we do a lot of the same things. The only thing that we have not done is actually acted together on stage. He’s directed me, I’ve directed him, we’ve done projects together, and we’ve been co-presenters and done workshops.
Q: How and when did you get your start in theater?
A: In high school. I did it because I was terrified to give an oral book report in an English class. I took speech and theater because it was the only way I was going to survive and get an A in that class, because I was petrified. And then I thought, “I like this!” I was an introverted, shy person to strangers. I was ridiculous in front of my family, but to other people that didn’t know me I was shy. I think I’ve gotten over it.
Q: Tell me a little bit about your journey to UTA.
A: I came to UTA to finish my undergrad, because I sort of did the “hop around, try-things-out” route. I got my associate’s at Tyler Junior College and loved that, because that was a place where I fit in very well; it sort of appealed to my small, hometown roots. I’m still close friends with my professors there; almost all of them are still there. It was a family. Most theater programs are like that because you spend so much time together you become a family. I did a little bit at Texas State, but I floated the river a lot more than I did anything else. So I came to finish up here and loved it.
Q: What has been your favorite play here at UTA?
A: The ones that I’ve been drawn to the most are the ones with really strong female portrayals that I’ve been able to do. I’m a character actress, so I get to walk in a lot of different shoes that I wouldn’t have been privy to, a lot of different lives that I would have never understood. I’ve gotten to see how women’s position has changed through the decades. I think that’s important and interesting to watch because I’ve always enjoyed so many freedoms. You know, you just take it for granted that women have always been able to do this kind of stuff, and even my mother was not able to do this kind of stuff.
I also like “The Lion in Winter” that was just done here. That was the alumni production and I got to play Eleanor of Aquitane. That was pretty amazing. And we’re bringing it back for Homecoming in February! It’s alumni, faculty, and undergraduates. We’re doing it as a special encore performance for Homecoming in the Bluebonnet [Room of the E.H. Hereford University Center].
Q: What are some other theaters in the area that you’ve been involved in?
A: Theatre Arlington, predominantly. I’ve worked at WaterTower Theatre as their Education Director, and I’ve also directed there, which is really wonderful. I’ve directed at Onstage [in Bedford] and at Main Street Theatre, which is in Mansfield. I’ve also done some work at Creative Arts Theatre and School (CATS). I directed “The Hobbit” this summer at Theatre Arlington. You’re really only supposed to have 25 people for the cast but I needed 34.
Q: Do you have any theater plans over the Christmas break?
A: I did three shows in three months over the summer, so I have taken a break. When we start back in January I am doing a production here that is Natalie Gaupp’s doctoral thesis. It is being student-directed and I am playing in that. It will start in March. That will overlap with remounting “Lion in Winter” which goes up in February. At the end of February I will direct a show at CATS. So I hit the ground running. I’ve had this semester to kind of wind down.
Q: You mentioned earlier that you were not officially a theater arts faculty member but a communication faculty member. How do those work together?
A: Well it’s all about communication. Within the communication department it’s about honing those skills in order to present your own ideas. In theater it’s about honing those skills to present other people’s ideas. Sometimes actors are the shyest people you’ll ever meet, but if you let them inhabit somebody else then they can do whatever they need to.