Newman University welcomed Dean of the School of Education Cameron Carlson during the summer of 2018. Carlson’s qualifications and extensive experience in education were well-known, but many of his co-workers don’t know that he has another talent — acting.
During a recent production of “Death by Chocolate,” Carlson made his Newman theater debut as Alfred Mellox.
Carlson said he heard about the audition process for the show through a mass email in which Director of Theater Mark Mannette said all member of the community were welcome to audition.
“I wasn’t sure how to approach at first,” said Carlson. “But when I responded to the email, Mark said he really meant everyone. So I auditioned like everyone else.”
Carlson said he really enjoyed being a part of the show because he was able to connect with the students and really get to know them.
Acting has been a part of Carlson’s life for as long as he can remember.
“My family has been in the business for many generations,” explained Carlson. “My grandparents were traveling actors. My grandmother was a roller skater and had an act and my grandfather had an acting group toward the end of the vaudeville circuit.”
Carlson added that his parents joined the craft, starting six different theaters in various places they lived, and he himself began acting at the age of 10.
“I was a chorus member in “Oliver” and my first lead role was at age 10. I acted with my dad in that play, he played the role of my dad in the production.”
He also has a role in teaching the craft. Carlson Acting and Performance Services, a company that provides community-based education including various acting workshops, was started by his family.
His love for acting combined with his passion for education and teaching younger generations developed into something of his own, which he calls MADCAP Comedy and Improv Troupe. The group is comprised of students who want to learn more about acting and gain stage experience at the same time.
“‘Madcap’ is a form of comedic and eccentric acting,” explained Carlson. “We do some limited engagement things; private stuff, murder mysteries in restaurants, that sort of thing. The main thing for me was, I became concerned about students leaving Wichita and feeling defeated. So a lot of the people I’m working with are younger, before they go to college, working with those really talented individuals and how to transition into acting professionally.”
Carlson said his focus has always been education and that acting and education go hand in hand. His conversations with some of the students lead to the discovery that they dream of careers as teachers.
“Theatre students are incredible at teaching,” he said. “They recognize they play different characters, and they are empathetic to kids who have differences. They become amazing teachers who are not afraid to take risks and get kids doing stuff they wouldn’t normally do.”
Spreading the message to students that they can have careers and still pursue acting is something Carlson is also passionate about. He said one of his goals is to live out that example so his students will see how possible it really is.
Carlson doesn’t just take the stage — he also works behind the scenes, whether it’s writing, producing or directing. His next project with MADCAP is a murder mystery he is directing, “Speakeasy Cafe,” the fourth show for the group, which will debut at Roxy’s on Nov. 2 and then again at Larkspur on Nov. 10.
Carlson said he enjoys watching the acting gene live on through his youngest son, who also took interest at a young age.
“My son started showing interest and when he was 8 years old, he and I were in a Christmas show together. We’ve done 15-20 shows together over the years. Now he’s saving money to go to Columbia and he plans on earning a theater degree. He’s also a really good writer and he plans on capitalizing on both areas.”
Continuing to emphasize the connection between education and acting is something Carlson said he looks forward to doing.
“There is a tremendous amount of crossover from acting to the education world. You have to have the momentum of the objective with a character, and it’s the same for when you’re working with education in a classroom. First-year teachers are looking at the task of teaching, but not always the rational. If you get teachers to take the “stage” — to really have a commanding presence and know why they are there — then there is no end to their teaching abilities.”