Utah Art: A Family Tradition

By Holly Vasic

University of Utah alumna and professor Amy Oakeson found a balance with her love for the stage and her refusal to sacrifice home and family.

Oakesonís parents were both U graduates, and they were both involved with music and theatre. Her father was a teacher and conductor and her mother was a classical violinist. Oakesonís fate was set in the arts as she grew up performing in a gifted and talented family. When she began at the U, Oakeson assumed she would follow in her dadís footsteps and become a music teacher.

ìAfter about two years into the Department of Music I transferred over back to the Department of Theatre because I realized thatís really where my heart was,î Oakeson explained.

She ended up receiving her Bachelorís of Fine Arts in Theatre Education, as if teaching was always the goal, but she intended to act.

ìWhen you look at the reality of being a professional actor, it poses some great challenges [such as] the lifestyle you have to lead, the location where you have to live,î Oakeson said. ìA lot of my friends who had become actors really sacrificed home and family. When … 99 percent of your union [is] not employed as gainful actors, itís kind of a bleak statistic.î

However, Oakeson was determined to act and teach, and she did not want to give up her lifestyle or what she loved.

Oakeson spent some time on the East Coast following graduation. While there, Oakeson had the opportunity to be exposed to some of the most talented artists in her opinion, and she eventually ended up at La Jolla Playhouse in San Diego. The summer drama internship was invaluable to her, especially as she was lucky enough to have Michael Grief, the director of the Broadway show ìRentî that went on to win a Tony Award, as her boss.That fall, Oakeson had to make the decision to stay at the playhouse or attend graduate school. Oakeson understood experience was the best learning opportunity she could get, so she stayed with La Jolla for another year.

ìIf I had any advice for anyone wanting to go into the arts, I really strongly suggest getting an internship with a professional theatre or doing something like that,î Oakeson said. ìReally in the arts, the connections you make and who you know are probably more important than just blind talent.î

During her time as an assistant, Oakeson was teaching at the San Diego Junior Theatre.

ìMy approach to child drama is probably really different than a lot of other child drama teachers,î Oakeson said. ìA lot of them come out of the education side of it and teaching, [and my expertise comes] out of the practical experience of theatre and implementing that into the education experience.î

But when it was time for more formal education, Oakeson was ready. She was accepted into the Child Drama Masterís Program at San Diego State University. A month prior to graduating, she found her way back to Utah with a job as the education director of the youth theatre program at the U.

Oakeson has done many things for the Uís theatre department over the years. Sometimes she has been more involved with the college while other times she has stayed home, especially after having her fourth child, but she has continued to teach through it all. As her children got older and Oakeson became more available, the chair of the department offered her the position of marketing and communications director.

Being in communications, she has tapped into a different side of creativity and built websites, made videos and created advertisements among other things.

All of this experience, learning, education and exposure wrapped up into a nice package for Oakeson one day when her daughter got involved with One Voice Childrenís Choir, and they were invited to be on ìAmericaís Got Talentî in 2014. The group needed a director of production and Oakeson had the know-how. The choir exploded after reaching the quarterfinals on the TV show, and Oakeson has become a sort of ìjack of all tradesî for them.

Oakeson is currently an adjunct assistant professor in the U Theatre Department and teaches Musical Theatre History. She is happy to tell any arts majors that you can do anything with that degree, because you never know how it will all come together.

[email protected]