Clinical Assistant Professor, Director of Vocal Performance
"We strive to put our performance pieces into an historical context...Our emphasis is to teach the students that music and lyrics and plays always emerge for a very "human" source. A connection to that source is imperative."
William Wesbrooks' interest in the performing arts began as a young boy. "I used to watch movie musicals on television," he remembers. It wasn't until he was a teenager that he got to attend his first live stage production, a national tour of Hello Dolly! Curiously, he went to the theater expecting not to like it. "I thought, 'How could they do anything as stage that could be as wonderful as a movie?' But I found that what they did on stage was much more exciting and imaginative than a movie, and involved me in an entirely different way."
After graduating from Eastern New Mexico University with a degree in psychology and minors in music and theater, Wesbrooks found his way to New York where he began to work as an actor, primarily in musical theater. Several years later, he retired from performing and began directing and writing plays. It was during this period that a friend who was teaching at NYU asked Wesbrooks to cover some classes. "That's how I got to know the program, and how the program got to know me." The following semester Wesbrooks was hired as an adjunct professor, and today he is a clinical assistant professor and Director of Vocal Performance in the Music and Performing Arts Program. "I am amazed to find how much my need to express myself creatively and theatrically as an artist is satisfied in the classroom," he says.
As Director of Vocal Performance, Wesbrooks confers closely with his faculty colleagues in order to chart the improvement the students are making, as well as the areas where they might make better progress. "Often times theater schools compartmentalize, and, for instance, the acting teacher and the voice teacher don't get along because they have different goals. We don't find that to be the case at all here because everyone on the faculty makes sure we're coming from the same place in terms of what we believe is required for the students to do their work."
Aside from his duties as program director and teacher, Wesbrooks also directs many of the musicals that the Department produces annually. A recent production of Ragtime epitomizes the kind of collaboration that the department aims for. Wesbrooks and his musical director spent considerable time talking with the students about the era that Ragtime is set in so that they could better understand the play. "We strive to put our performance pieces into an historical context. This work includes many different areas -- political, cultural, artistic, and sociological," he says. "Our emphasis is to teach the students that music and lyrics and plays always emerge for a very "human" source. A connection to that source is imperative." Wesbrooks says that Ragtime was great material for another reason: no one person carries the weight of the whole show. "We have such wonderful singers and instrumentalists in our department, and with this show we were able to have 40 students on stage and 30 students in the orchestra pit. They all did more than justice to the material, and brought it to life in a really satisfying way."
Although these productions are officially extracurricular, Wesbrooks sees his work on them as directly connected to the outcome of his teaching. "To be able to do a show and see within that the growth of particular students, to see them singing something I know they couldn't have sung a year ago, or bringing a scene to life in a way they definitely learned how to do throughout the rehearsal process - that is amazingly satisfying as a teacher. I know it means these students will be able to take on their next roles, as well as their first professional jobs."
If all this sounds like it's tremendously gratifying - it is. "I absolutely love my job," says Wesbrooks. "Even when I'm feeling tired and cranky and like I don't want to go to work, I get to the Department and realize that I'm delighted to be there." He attributes this to a supportive environment filled with wonderful people, and especially department chair Lawrence Ferrara at the helm. "He has an incredible vision for our department - what it can be and what it will continue to be. I'm a real fan of all of it."