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Thursday, July 21, 2005 01:13 pm

theater

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Eric Thibodeaux-Thompson (center, seated) plays Henry V the title role at Wisconsin Shakespeare Festival
PHOTO COURTESY OF ERIC THIBODEAUX-THOMPSON

Eric Thibodeaux-Thompson moved to Springfield three years ago to help build a theater program at University of Illinois-Springfield with his wife, Missy Thibodeaux-Thompson, a fellow actor and director and part-time assistant professor of theater at Illinois College in Jacksonville. Before their move to the capital city, the couple’s pursuit of work in the theater had sent them around the country, from a stint in Manhattan with next to nothing to Bloomington, where Thibodeaux-Thompson is acting in what he considers one of the best Shakespeare festivals around.

Thibodeaux-Thompson is playing Duncan, the King of Scotland, in Macbeth, and Lord Chamberlain in Henry VIII. Before Henry VIII performances, he plays a role in the “green show,” an abbreviated version of What You Will, which he considers “kind of an appetizer before the main show.”

“Shakespeare is certainly one of my favorites,” he says. “The challenge for the actor is so there. There are so many things to take apart and consider.”

Aside from the thrill of acting in a Shakespeare play, Thibodeaux-Thompson says, he enjoys the festival’s mix of professionals and up-and-comers.

Thibodeaux-Thompson knew he wanted to be involved in the theater from a young age. He can pinpoint the time at which he realized that theater would be his life’s work. Growing up in what he considers a suburban Minnesota environment as a self-described typical jock playing football, baseball, and basketball, Thibodeaux-Thompson says, his view of the world was limited. His mother insisted on broadening that view by taking him to museums, symphonies, and the theater.

She brought him to the acclaimed Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis many times, and, sometime around the age of 15, Thibodeaux-Thompson fell in love with the theater — or, as he puts it, his love for theater “punched him right in the face.

“Sitting in that theater, the Guthrie, it was that wonderful rush that you hear people talk about,” Thibodeaux-Thompson says.

“Maybe for some people it’s a spiritual experience and for other people it’s something else. It moved me in such a great way. It opened my eyes, and I just thought to myself, ‘I want to be up there doing that.’ ”

Soon thereafter, he was. Thibodeaux-Thompson enrolled in the theater program at the University of Minnesota and later received his master of fine arts degree in acting at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where he met Missy, also an MFA student. They wound up in the hub of American theater, New York City.

“We arrived in New York City in 1994 with literally a nickel between us,” Thibodeaux-Thompson says. Three years later, Missy received a job offer in North Carolina, and the pair left the city with a little bit of savings.

“We insisted on living in Manhattan. We realize that sometimes it is maybe smarter to live in Brooklyn and commute every day,” Thibodeaux-Thompson says. “We were stubborn, I guess — we had it on our life’s checklist that we wanted to live in the city for an extended time.”

Although, Thibodeaux-Thompson admits, they didn’t “turn the city on fire,” they did OK for themselves and established a partnership that permitted both of them to pursue acting careers. Acting jobs have taken Eric and Missy many places, and each has seen highs and lows.

“I feel like I’ve kind of ridden on her coattails during slow times in my career, and perhaps I’ve helped her in her career from time to time as well,” Thibodeaux-Thompson says. “We’ve had a nice team in our relationship that way; if one of us didn’t have too much at a given moment, chances are, maybe the other one does.”

The Thibodeaux-Thompsons are busy this summer, and, even as the festival is drawing to a close, the new semesters at their respective colleges will be starting. It’s a comfortable setup, but the couple will never get too comfortable — because there are always new roles to play.

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