VPA Faculty Spotlight: Jim Petty

Jim Petty, one of our newer VPA faculty, sits down to talk with us to chat about his position, KCACTFs, and all things theatre.
Headshot of Jim Petty
Headshot of Jim Petty

In the fall of 2020, the Department of Visual and Performing Arts introduced Assistant Professor of Practice James “Jim” Petty, PhD, to the team. Since his start, Petty has expanded the theatre program, designing and teaching classes in technical theatre and other courses that  move the field beyond the stage. In addition, his work as Interim Technical Director for the Rogers Center of the Arts (2020-2024) aided multiple VPA and OnStagers productions. VPA. Petty works tirelessly for VPA and all his students (both majors and non-majors alike), with aspirational goals for both the College, VPA and its students. 

Petty teaches a variety of courses at the College, some inherited from past faculty but many in which he has created and designed. His more ‘theatre’-focused courses include Design for Theatre and Technical Production for Theatre. Both courses embed the building blocks and best practices of the professional technical theatre industry. Students learn knowledge, tools, and skills to pursue a career within the professional world of theatre. “These classes are well-enrolled with a mix of theatre majors alongside students from the larger student community who either have some theatre background and want to experience it again as an elective, or students who have no theatre experience— they just think it looks like a fun course to try!”

Outside of the technical theatre courses are his highly interdisciplinary ones, such as Theatre for Educators and Politics of Performance. Petty describes what takes place in these courses,  “discussions of theater techniques and plays/films provide a lens through which to examine broader concepts.” One of his favorite interdisciplinary courses is  titled Bioethical Dramas. In this course, Petty facilitates conversations that make connections between medical practice and our healthcare system by using films and scripts about medical issues to explore the ethics of practices and how they impact the human condition. “Theater at its best, in my opinion, offers the viewer a deeply personal window into the human experience,” Petty explains, “it’s not always an easy course to engage with, emotionally speaking, but in many ways I think that’s what makes it so worthwhile and creates the most powerful and lasting learning outcomes.”

Along with courses, Petty has done a lot as the Technical Director for VPA productions with scenic design, building the scenery, and overseeing most of the technical elements for shows such as Ugly Lies The Bone and A Wrinkle In Time

Merrimack is no stranger to the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival (KCACTF), and Petty is no exception. Participating in the festival during his undergraduate years, he continued his involvement with joining the leadership team as part of their Executive Committee. Now, after he has achieved his PhD, and is more comfortable in his position at the College, he looks forward to renewing his involvement with the organization. “Working with KCACTF offers me a whole host of professional development and scholarship opportunities,” he commented,  “and provides our Merrimack students with incredible opportunities in the broader theater community.”

Petty continues his love of theatre outside of Merrimack as well. In June 2022, he designed his first show of Billy the Bomber for Emergent Theatreworks, a NYC-based theatre company. As both Technical Director and Scenic Director, Petty worked long hours for the week he was in the City overseeing the creation of the show. “It was a wonderful experience that was challenging and rewarding in the best way, and I look forward to the next opportunity I have to work with them.”

In the coming years, Petty has some great ideas for the Rogers Center of the Arts. While the space is still rebuilding after the pandemic, he believes it would be a great time for students to showcase their work. While the space has a past of showcasing professional productions, Petty mentions that “as an Arts professor on this campus, I’m also keenly aware of the talent of our own students… [w]e have fine artists, musicians, and theater actors, writers, designers and directors who all do incredible work during the academic year.” Utilizing the space as a way for students to show off their talents is something that he hopes to see in the near future.

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