By Lilly Moore
Jim Crawford, associate professor of theatre, grew up in Lexington, Massachusetts. After graduating from the public school system, he went on to attend Brown University with a strong desire to become an actor. As so many are, there were several instances where he was discouraged from following such an uncertain lifestyle.
“I was told, if you can do anything else, you should do something else, so I decided to go into film and television production,” Crawford explained.
After spending his life in the northeast, he moved to Los Angeles where he made his living “working behind the scenes on bad low-budget movies for a couple of years, and realized that it had nothing to do with what I loved about theatre and acting in the first place,” he stated.
He ended up in graduate school at the University of California at San Diego to truly study acting for a few years. Following his time in California, he went on to the Big Apple. “I moved to New York and lived the struggling artist’s life for most of the 90’s,” Crawford said.
Crawford’s love of acting began far before he began his undergraduate studies. When he was ten, he played Paul Revere in his school play. “I got hooked and totally loved it and always acted throughout school,” he said. “At the end of my sophomore year, I announced to all of my friends that I wanted to be an acting major and they all looked at me like ‘yeah, no kidding, we’ve all known that for a long time.’”
He has acted in a variety of plays at regional theatres across the country, in off-Broadway productions and on small-touring plays.
Crawford soon discovered a love for directing while growing his experience at universities, starting with Brown’s summer theatre. “It’s turned out to be something that I really enjoy and do well,” he said. While living in New York, he taught at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pennsylvania, as a favor to a friend of his.
“I thought sure, yeah, I’ll do it, and it turned out to be one of the great surprises of my life that I fell in love with it,” he said. Crawford had unfortunately been prey to the classic stereotype that teaching was the next step for the failed actor, but he quickly learned this wasn’t true.
Crawford had spent a few years in New York auditioning, but found the lifestyle “soulless”. He soon found that he thoroughly enjoyed reconnecting with and teaching plays to students, and realized that “combining teaching and acting was the way [he] was to become an artist.”
He added, “That’s what I loved about it – teaching made me feel like an artist again, in the way that being an actor in New York actually made me lose touch with being an artist.”
At Southern Methodist University, Crawford worked as a professor in the BFA and MFA programs. After loving his many years working there, his husband, Brooks Egerton, persuaded him to live somewhere other than Dallas.
After three years of searching, Crawford found Sewanee. His husband’s family lived in Nashville, and after hiking around the campus, he found Sewanee incredibly beautiful. “I’d seen the facility and knew about the connection to Tennessee Williams and I just thought ‘oh, my family would have such a great life there.’”
Crawford has worked at Sewanee for two years now and is thoroughly enjoying his experience thus far.
“I feel really good about the play that we just did here, and I feel like the door is open to doing all kinds of challenging plays. You know, I’m excited to direct Cabaret in the fall. I definitely have plays spinning through my head as things that I would like to tackle in the future,” said Crawford.
Crawford will be leaving campus for his sabbatical next spring, where he plans to travel to New Zealand and Australia to learn about acting techniques there. “It’s exciting because I’ve never been to that part of the world, but also because there are so many successful actors from that part of the world, and not many people are looking at how they’re being trained, as opposed to a play like London or Moscow,” he explained.
His studies will take place over a month, and for the rest of his sabbatical, Crawford will continue his work as a professional actor.
When asked what being an artist meant to him, he replied that “makes me feel lucky. I feel so lucky to get to spend time working on the thing that I love. But it’s also a way of wrestling with the world; with the issues of the world in a really active way. I mean, being an actor is getting to walk into the worlds created by the greatest writers who ever lived. I mean, it’s a privilege, and it feels like living the fullest life I can imagine.”