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Pellissippi State students partner with theatre professionals for ‘King Lear’

Graphic for King Lear production at Pellissippi StatePellissippi State Community College theatre students have a rare opportunity this semester to act and serve as technical crew alongside professionals on a Shakespearean production. 

Pellissippi State will present “King Lear” in partnership with The WordPlayers April 5-14 in the college’s Clayton Performing Arts Center, 10915 Hardin Valley Road, Knoxville. 

Friday and Saturday shows are at 7:30 p.m. while Sunday performances will be at 2:30 p.m. Tickets are available here to the Shakespearean tragedy, which has been trimmed to under 2 ½ hours.  

“Co-producing a play with The WordPlayers gives our students experience with professionals as well as professional credits, whether they are on stage or backstage,” said Professor Charles Miller, who is directing the play. “Those experiences are hard to come by. I didn’t have any as an undergrad.” 

“King Lear” stars Terry Weber of The WordPlayers in the titular role. Weber is a University of Tennessee theater professor emeritus with three decades of  theatrical experience. He has performed on several of the world’s most prestigious theater stages in New York, Seattle, Chicago, Toronto, and Avignon, France, and his deep understanding of Shakespeare’s work and his ability to convey complex emotions are anticipated to bring a fresh and powerful interpretation to the character of King Lear. 

Miller and Weber worked together to trim the play to retain critical sections while keeping it authentic and interesting to audiences.  

There is a lot of humor in the play which, interestingly, makes the dramatic sections stand out even more,” Miller said. 

“King Lear” is rounded out by retired union actors, non-union actors, community members, students and three Pellissippi State theatre alumni. Students have also been involved with design, set construction and production.  

“Almost the entire theatre department is involved,” Miller said. “It’s all hands on deck.” 

Miller brought in Jeff Parker, one of the top speech/voice/dialect coaches in the United States, to serve as a guest artist and guest instructor earlier this spring. 

“For the show, Jeff was a text coach,” Miller said. “How do you make Shakespeare sound like normal speech? Because if you don’t say the lines correctly, it can be hard to understand.” 

Every rehearsal is an opportunity for students to learn, as they are surrounded by “all of these amazing actors, lighting designers” and other professionals at the top of their game, he said. 

“When our students aren’t on stage, they are sitting in the rows, watching the pros do it,” Miller said. “I tell them, ‘Keep watching. You’ll learn a lot.’”