Sherry Landrum has been teaching acting and improvisation techniques almost as long as she has been practicing the crafts herself.
Landrum first walked the boards of the Chattanooga Little Theatre as a 9-year-old actress and not long after she was teaching theater to kids through the city's Parks and Recreation summer programs.
After marrying Rex Knowles, the two pursued professional acting careers. Along the way, they found themselves in teaching roles, first in Los Angeles and later in New York.
In New York, they were invited to lead classes at the famed New Actors Workshop, a two-year professional actor training program founded by George Morrison, Mike Nichols and Paul Sills.
A little more than a decade ago, Dr. Jim Catanzaro approached them about starting an actor training program at Chattanooga State Community College. The opportunity to start something new was too good to pass up, so they moved back in 2002.
Landrum is the artistic director of the Chattanooga State Repertory Theatre and the Professional Actor Training Program.
During her career, she has starred in and directed numerous productions including "Godspell." She's also co-written two musicals with former Brainerd High School classmate George S. Clinton, "Smoky Mountain Suite" and "That Other Woman's Child."
Q: Let's talk about "Godspell" first. That was a seminal moment for you and Rex I imagine. What was going on in your lives when that came about for you both?
A: I was getting my master's at Columbia and he was in seminary school at Union Theological. We'd been married a couple of years already and were both studying in New York and auditioning. Back in the olden days you just went right on with your education and you continued to audition and study acting, taking voice lessons. We'd already worked in a couple of theater companies in the summer.
I heard there was to be another audition for "Godspell." In those days, "Godspell" was the big deal. Everybody had to do a "Godspell" audition. I didn't want to do the cattle call, so I got a friend to act as our agent to try to get us an audition with the producers. He got us in to see the producers after the call back.
We both got cast. (Landrum added later that being a married couple was a bonus for them with the producers because of the stability it added to the cast). I was almost cast in the Broadway show, but then Dorris Hall, this amazing singer came in and sang "Happy Birthday," and I said, "there goes my chance to do Broadway."
But, we got the tour and that was amazing.
Education: Brainerd High School, Centre College, Columbia University and Antioch University.
Married: Rex Knowles, daughters Canedy and Jessie.
Vocation: Artistic director of theater programs at Chattanooga State Community College.
Movie: "The Purple Rose of Cairo."
Play: "Copenhagen," "Angels in America" and "Millennium Approaches."
Musical: "Billy Elliot."
Book: "American Gods."
Performer: John Cleese.
Song: "In My Life."
Quote: "We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be."
-- Kurt Vonnegut
Q: How long were you on the road with the tour?
A: A full year (1972). Then we did San Francisco for six months until it closed there.
It was incredible. We had the kinds of experiences that would make a movie. We had so many people that protested our shows, but we got standing ovations at every single performance. There was all this controversy. We played Oral Roberts University and a man in Memphis came on stage and told us we were all going to hell.
We were stopped in Van Horn, Texas, and got to see the jail. It was nothing but a speed trap. It was like a movie with this old adobe building and the sheriff with his feet on the desk and he actually had beans cooking.
Q: Every actor dreams of working in LA and New York so they can ultimately land in Chattanooga, right? You made it work. How?
A: Right. Jim Catanzaro offered us the chance to do a professional, two-year style program in a beautiful city. New York is nice and wonderful, but being here and being able to offer this to people who wouldn't normally be able to do it is a dream come true.
To be able to nurture an actor to where they are ready for an entry-level start to their career and to where they can present themselves professionally is wonderful.
Q: Do you have a sense that the program's reputation has grown within the region to where people feel they don't have to go to New York or Los Angeles?
A: It is growing. We have people from Indiana, Ohio, California. People know we are here. And, there is not as much skepticism at the school.
Barry Courter is staff reporter and columnist for the Times Free Press. He started his journalism career at the Chattanooga News-Free Press in 1987. He covers primarily entertainment and events for ChattanoogaNow, as well as feature stories for the Life section. Born in Lafayette, Ind., Barry has lived in Chattanooga since 1968. He graduated from Notre Dame High School and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga with a degree in broadcast journalism. He previously was ...