From Columbia Stages to the Bright Lights: Theatre Alums Offer Industry Insights in Panel Discussion

Columbia's Theatre Department hosted an alumni talk featuring industry professionals who shared their experiences and advice with students.

A Columbia College Chicago tradition continued on April 16 when a group of theatre professionals returned for a talk about their experiences in the professional theatre world. The panelists, each with impressive careers, shared stories and advice in a lively and engaging discussion. 

The event was moderated by Darlene Jackson, a creative industry liaison for Columbia’s Career Center, and included the following panelists:  

  • Chuck Smith, a former Theatre faculty member who is now the resident director at Goodman Theatre. 
  • A.C. Smith ‘86, a two-time Joseph Jefferson Award winner and cast member in the Goodman’s current production of “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone,” a play by Pulitzer Prize-winner August Wilson that chronicles the struggles and lives of African Americans in the 20th century. 
  • Krystel V. McNeil ‘09, a cast member in “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone.”  
  • Cristin Carole, MEd '01 is currently enrolled in the Intimacy for Stage and Screen certificate program. Carole is also the associate director and intimacy consultant/choreographer for “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone.” 

Seasonedtheatre veterans Chuck Smith and A.C. Smith captivated the audience with behind-the-scenes stories. In an accessible and humorous style, Chuck Smith regaled the crowd with tales from his extensive career. A.C. Smith followed, recounting his experiences bringing the works of August Wilson to life onstage, many times under Chuck Smith's direction. The two have built a personal friendship and have worked together professionally over the last 40 years — initially as a student and teacher, and later as an actor and mentor/director. This relationship exemplifies the unique opportunities available to Columbia students that prepare them for success in their chosen fields and beyond.  

Balancing the veteran perspectives were the voices of rising stars Krystel V. McNeil and Cristin Carole. McNeil, passionate about representation and storytelling, stressed the importance of taking risks and following artistic passions. Carole, a student in the innovative Intimacy for Stage and Screen program, provided a glimpse into this growing field of theatrical specialization. 

Beyond personal anecdotes, the discussion offered crucial advice for aspiring theatre professionals. The panelists emphasized the importance of staying motivated, seizing opportunities, and building strong relationships within the competitive theatre community. Adaptability and a willingness to embrace new trends were also highlighted as essential for success in today's ever-changing theatrical landscape. 

For those unable to attend the live event, the entire discussion is availableon YouTube.