Jack of all theatrical trades finds joy in creative energy

Jack of all theatrical trades finds joy in creative energy



Julie Gabel is a theatrical jack of all trades: She teaches, she directs, she acts, she designs — and she’s master of them all.

Q. Can you tell me a little bit about your background — what other positions/careers have you held before now — and the path that led you to your current job(s)?

A. I have a B.ED. in education and an MA in drama. I worked as a professional actor in Los Angeles and San Diego in the ’80s, after which I moved back to Arkansas with my husband, the talented actor and brilliant educator, Mike Thomas, who is currently a high school theater teacher at Fayetteville High School. I am [now] an independent contractor and work with several awesome theater organizations, like Arts Live Theatre, Walton Arts Center and Trike Theatre.

For Trike Theatre and Walton Arts Center, I am fortunate to work alongside the brilliant Patricia Relph, arts learning specialist at Walton Arts Center, in a number of public school classrooms teaching arts integration workshops to young students. Dr. Pat is a wonderful artistic soul in my life who has taught me so much.

For Arts Live Theatre, I mainly work as a teaching artist.

Starting last season Arts Center of the Ozarks hired me to direct not only the Neil Simon comedy “Plaza Suite” but their summer musical, “Mamma Mia.” This season I am directing the musical, “Into the Woods” in February and their summer musical as well.

I have the best job ever!

Q. When and how did you fall in love with theater? And what inspired you that it could be your full-time gig, even in Northwest Arkansas?

A. My mother was a lover of the arts and started me in dance at a young age. From there I learned to play an instrument, the violin, where I realized how much I loved playing in an orchestra. I then discovered my love for singing when I was in the school choir. I studied voice with Max Worthley, who led the UA opera department back in the day. He taught me a real love for singing opera. From there, theater was the next artistic discovery. I was so grateful to find theater … a place I could be myself … a place I could express myself … a place I could grow as a human. Theater opened up my world!

When we settled into Fayetteville, Mark Smith and I started a production company creating opportunities. This is when I figured out how to produce theater as well. I also found myself drawn to direct theater, making a shift from acting to directing. The more I directed, the more I realized how much I loved it! I think being an actor has been beneficially to me as a director. Former UA drama professor, my mentor and dear friend, Kent R. Brown’s directing style has had a great impact on me, and I am inspired by him to this day!

Q. Can you talk about an average week for you doing what you do now?

A. What I love is that every week is different, which keeps me on my toes! Some weeks I am in residency in local schools working with teachers and students. If I am not in the classroom, I’m usually working on lesson plans, in a production meeting, doing research or script work for a play I am directing or preparing to audition. I teach and/or direct in afterschool classes most weeks. A majority of my week nights are filled with rehearsals. In my spare time I play with my cats or walk my dog, Cooper — or Mike’s favorite, experimenting with a new recipe in our kitchen. A majority of my time is spent in rehearsals, which inspired my husband to get me a T-shirt which reads, “I can’t … I have rehearsal.”

Q. What do you love about what you’re doing? What are the best parts, the highlights, what makes you excited to come to work?

A. Working with young actors is so fulfilling. The young artists I am fortunate enough to work with are creative and hungry to learn … ready to explore! The pleasure of being present when a young person finds their voice or artistic style is so rewarding … and I get to play a small part in those moments. Theater taps into that artistic potential, and I see children, and adults, enjoy that fulfillment of artistic expression …. Not sure what’s better than that!

I also love working with adult actors. The talent pool in Northwest Arkansas is a deep one, and I have had the great fortune to work with a number of talented artists. In my experiences, these artists have a great dedication and a great respect for the art form and for each other … so inspiring!

Q. What do you hope you leave as a lasting legacy as a theater artist?

A. My wish would be that I’ve planted that seed that will continue to grow and nourish art and specifically theater in these young people with whom I have worked. I get to spend time with the future in a wonderful setting where imagination and creative energy are apparent in every class or rehearsal.

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