Theater Instructor Robert Thompson Shapes Teaching Philosophy Through His Learning Experience

  Aaron Frey
  Friday, March 27, 2020 4:56 PM
  Campus News

Galesburg, IL

Originally from Decatur, Robert Thompson moved to Galesburg when he was 18 years old.

He kept finding his way back to Knox County, even while attending Western Illinois University, going to graduate school at the University of Connecticut and living in New York as working actor.

“I would always come back to Galesburg,” Thompson said. “Even though I was born in Decatur, this was my home. It’s hard to explain, but I always wanted to make this my home.”

He got that chance last summer when he was hired as a theater instructor at Carl Sandburg College.

“The commitment this community has to its arts is unparalleled,” said Thompson, who taught for four years at Western Nebraska Community College prior to coming to Sandburg. “I’ve never been to a town this size that supports the theater and the arts as much as this community does. They love it, and I love performing for them. There’s so much community involvement. I’ve loved it from afar, and now I get to love it from up close.”

In addition to his passion for the stage, Thompson always knew he wanted to be a teacher, even though school, as he said, “just didn’t fit for me.” He dropped out of high school on three occasions before earning his high school equivalency the fall following his senior year.

“I would go to school just to be in the play, and once the play was over, I’d drop out and get spring fever and leave,” Thompson said. “And so I figured that there’s got to be a different way, a different approach to education than what I was being hit with.”

It’s a philosophy he’s carried with him to the classroom and the stage. There’s a focus on empowering students through practical, hands-on work and an emphasis on class participation. Often times, the student who appears least eager to sing or play a role in class is the one Thompson selects.

“I just felt that I could help students like me that were interested in theater that didn’t have the quite linear process, memorize something to the test and then forget it,” Thompson said. “That’s exactly why I wanted to teach at a community college, because there are people like me.”

He also wanted to make sure students got a full theater experience rather than pigeon-holing themselves to reciting lines once the curtain goes up. As Thompson learned through his experience as an actor, it’s important to be a jack-of-all-trades rather than a master of one. He wants his students to have a hand in set-building, costume design, lighting, sound and everything else that takes place behind the scenes.

“It’s what I call it being a theatrician,” Thompson said. “You’re not just limited to just acting, but all of theater is the profession.”

For Thompson, the finished product of putting all those elements together creates a sensation that rivals anything else we can experience.

“It uses all of the art forms that we know of — music, painting, carpentry — and then combines everything in a way that creates this super-feeling,” Thompson said. “Theater combines it all into one big, major moment, major event that we all experience. That event, I think, can change a community.”

sandburg magazine cover

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Aaron Frey