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From Set to Stage: Theatre Arts Alumna Branches Out

  • By: Abigail Franklin
  • Published:
Esther Neel Headshot

Taylor’s Theatre Arts program exposes students to every aspect of theatre, both on and off-stage. Whether designing costumes, painting sets, or rehearsing lines, there is always a way to get involved with creating theatre for the Taylor community.

For alumna Esther Neel ‘13, her experience with the Taylor theatre program opened the door for her to pursue what she loves professionally.  

Learning to be Flexible in Lexington

Neel works as the Resident Director and Company Manager for Lexington Children’s Theatre in Lexington, Kentucky. Her job includes directing shows, hiring professional actors for the company, watching auditions, and writing contracts. 

Neel spent two years teaching art before working at Lexington Children’s Theatre, an experience that has helped immensely for the moments in her job when she teaches in the Education Department in the theatre. Her time at Taylor taught her to be flexible, an invaluable skill when working with students. 

“Doing theatre in the middle of a pandemic has been very challenging and my day doesn’t look like what it used to look like,” Neel said. “The best part of my job is that no day looks like the day before.”

Lexington Children’s Theatre is a mission-based company, and that drive to uphold its values is one of the things that Neel enjoys most about working there. She believes the arts can have a life-changing impact on a student, an idea that was solidified during her time at Taylor and is echoed in her current job.

“I am in the business of making better humans,” Neel said. “I get to teach empathy every day and that is so important to me because I think the world needs more empathetic humans. When we can experience feelings and see the world from different perspectives, I think we make the world a better place.”

Valuable Background in Taylor Theatre

Assistant Professor of Theatre Arts Tracy Manning encouraged Neel to take a course on directing. At first, Neel was unenthusiastic about her first directing experience, but she was grateful for a professor who was willing to push her outside of her comfort zone with her best interests at heart. Neel credits Manning with her new-found flexibility and ability to tackle any project thrown her way, whether on stage or behind the scenes.

“Try everything once,” Neel said when asked to give advice to future theatre students. “There is a whole world out there that you don’t know about. The more skills that you can obtain, the more marketable you can make yourself. We [Lexington Children’s Theatre] hire a lot of general interns where we need you to be able to paint a set and then hang a light. Try lots of different things.”

And that might mean valuable content outside of the theatre. While at Taylor, Neel took a class on non-verbal communication, a course that she’s used most often both in her career and her day-to-day life. She emphasized the importance of communication as a whole, citing her professors instilling in her the importance of good communication.

Neel’s time at Taylor allowed her to spend time with people from a variety of backgrounds and ways of thought, each of whom taught her something in large and small ways. 

“There are so many moments from Taylor Theatre that I’m so thankful for,” Neel said. “You make memories and you make families doing theatre because you have to be so vulnerable with the people you’re choosing to create art with … I’m so thankful for those relationships that I built because they’re still some of my closest relationships now.” 

Interested in learning more about Taylor’s theatre program? Click here.

Photos courtesy of Lexington Children's Theatre.