From Flex to Rex

Theatre gets renamed and Theatre Archive is revealed

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  • Student looks through photo albums in Theatre Archive.

  • Mirta Martin, Interim President, hugs Rex Stephenson, Emeritus Professor of Drama, after dedicating the occasion to him.

  • Stephenson smiles after cutting the ribbon to the newly named “Rex Stephenson Theatre.”.

  • Rebecca Crocker, Ferrum College Assistant Professor and Program Coordinator, wears shirt to represent the new “Rex Stephenson Theatre”. From left to right: Emily Blankenship-Tucker, Instructor of Performing Arts and Director of Appalachian Music, Rebecca Crocker, and Rachel Blankenship-Tucker.

  • Stephenson smiles while taking photos after the event.

  • Photo taken after the event. Pictured left to right: Elise Witcher, ’04 theatre arts alumna; Joe Stanley, ’93 graduate; Jessica Stephenson, daughter of Rex; Rebecca Crocker; Rex Stephenson; Tony Pica, ’03 graduate; Janice Watkins; and Jeb Bradbury, class of ’90; and Tina Hanlon, Professor of English.

  • Rex Stephenson, Emeritus professor of Drama, cuts ribbon to open the “Rex Theatre.”

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The surprise had been kept a secret for the past few months, but the idea had been brewing for a few years.

The whole thing was kind of a bait-and-switch.

Bait: Lure in Rex Stephenson, Emeritus (retired) Professor of Drama, with the reveal of the new Theatre Department Archive.

Switch: Toward the end of the reveal, unfurl the banner renaming the Flex Theatre in honor of Stephenson–“The Rex”.

Performing Arts Professor Emily Blankenship-Tucker announced the dedication.

“We’re extremely proud of this history that is represented in this gallery that we’ve been putting together,” Blankenship-Tucker said. “It has been incredibly inspiring to go back through all of this work and so many beautiful pictures and artifacts. But the truth is, Rex, we’re not just cutting ribbon on an archive gallery… So welcome and thank you so much for joining us in the Rex Stephenson Theatre!”

Stephenson’s one-word answer summed up his surprise.

“Damn,” he said.

After regaining his composure, he continued.

“I am very honored, more than honored. When I was very young, my grandfather told me if you take a job that you love, you never work. And that’s been very true for me…I think that I’ve been lucky. And I think the students here taught me far more than I ever taught them,”

Stephenson’s work at the college started in 1973, and he has built much of the program. He created the Jack Tale Players, which have played to more than a million audience members. They’ve been continuously on tour since 1975.

“He really built a theater program here at Ferrum which has trained people to use performing arts in whatever they do in their lives… I think he’s written something like 40 Folktale scripts and 30 other plays. It’s a huge number, maybe 70 scripts. A lot of it is adaptations of classic literature He’s done biblical stories, he’s done historical things, locally relevant things, lots of things for families and kids– so his impact on the college, Ferrum itself, the community, and other regions and just nationally– he’s had this huge impact,” said Blankenship-Tucker.

The build-up for this reveal began with remarks from Mirta Martin, Interim President.

“This is a historic event in the life of a college,” Martin said. “We are coming together to honor a gentleman who has dedicated his entire life to the pursuit of excellence–to the embodiment of our motto, of ‘Not Self but Others’. And he is within these walls, he is within this campus, he is within many of you, he is certainly within the community, and this certainly is the rightful time to be able to say, loudly, thank you, for everything that you have done throughout decades. Thank you for bringing theatre and people into our college. Thank you for making a difference in so many people’s lives. Thank you for being that compass that has afforded us the opportunity to be able to instill in the next generation of leaders the love that has been within your heart for so many years. You are an incredible gentleman. It is my privilege to be able to stand here and say thank you to you.”

Kevin Reilly, Vice President of Academic Affairs, spoke about the impact the Theatre Department has had on the college throughout the years.

“One of the many things that made me fall in love with this college is that we deliver experiences to our students…What discipline better represents that than our Performing Arts?” Reilly said. “Experiential, skill-based learning is what we take away from our Performing Arts major. But more than that, we are enriched by being in the program as we go out into our lives and we are enriched by the program as we have been the past few days, the past few weeks, the past few months, and the past many many years–by all of the wonder and the beauty of our Performing Arts, our students, our community members. And our faculty…None of this is possible without our remarkable faculty.”

Some alumni who have worked with Stephenson also came up to say a few words about him and the impact the theatre and Stephenson had in their lives. Joe Stanley, class of 1993 was one who attended.

“I’ve been in 43 productions here at Ferrum; 40 of them have been with Rex Stephenson. From the first day that I came into this space, I knew I was in a sacred place. I have friends, I have family, who worshipped in this building when it was a chapel. But when it was converted into a performance center, it became no less sacred. And that was in large part to Rex,” Stanley said.

Stanley also said that Stephenson loved his students enough to expect the very best from them.

“And he never shied, no matter what dragging it took to convince you of your own potential. Rex didn’t prepare you for a performance—he prepared you for a lifetime,” Stanley said. “He’s been my professor, my mentor, my collaborator, and most importantly my friend. This is indeed the house that Jack built. But I’m most proud to say: I know the architect. On behalf of myself, my family, this community, with every ounce of love: thank you.”

Alumni who were unable to come in person sent letters of appreciation, and Blankenship-Tucker and Rebecca Crocker, Program Coordinator and Assistant Professor of Theater Arts, also expressed their appreciation for Stephenson’s life work. His contribution is featured in the new archive, along with many other photos, stories, and artifacts from Ferrum’s history.

“So we’ve built this theater archive… it’s a series of memorabilia, lots and lots of photographs, lots and lots of programs, and just all kinds of different artifacts from the history of the theatre in Ferrum, from the beginnings of the Jack Tale Players company, which started in 1975,  all the way up through now. It has lots of stuff about the drama department over time, plus the Jack Tale Players, plus the Blue Ridge Dinner Theatre, just all kinds of things that have happened and been part of the theater world here,” Blankenship-Tucker explained.

This past weekend, the Theatre Department also performed its last production of the school year. It was a musical adaptation of Treasure Island by Stephenson and music portions added by Blankenship-Tucker.

“It is an unmitigated pleasure to work with the talented professors of theater and music at Ferrum College on these productions,”  said Don Vineyard, community member in the cast. “The energy and enthusiasm of the young folks is inspiring! It helps to emphasize the way the college works with the community to create a magical environment we can all enjoy together.”

The production also brought back memories for Mike Ferguson, class of 2003, cast member, and Director of Dining Services.

“My involvement in Treasure Island is a reflection of my early years as a student in Jack Tales,” Ferguson said. “I’ve had numerous opportunities to perform at Ferrum, but my busy schedule has hindered me from doing so. I managed to work Treasure Island around my schedule and, now I’m waiting for the show to begin.” (this was stated before Treasure Island)

April 22 was the first official performance in the newly named Rex Theatre.

“I could not be more proud. It has been the utmost pleasure to bring Rex back to Ferrum where he belongs,” Crocker stated.