Theatre director does more outside of Kent State

Jack Kopanski

Terri Kent, director of the recent “Thoroughly Modern Millie,”and head of the musical theatre program at Kent State, has not dedicated her passion to theater for the past 25 years at the university, but also does much more outside of Kent State itself.

Kent engulfed herself in music and developed an interest for theatre at a young age. However, she did not perform on stage until she was in high school.

“My parents put me in dance lessons when I was three,” Kent said. “We didn’t have a lot of money, but they took me (to the theatre) when they could. The boys (my brothers) went to the Cincinnati Reds game and I went to (the theatre to see) the Kenley Players. I was the only girl.”

Once she reached high school, Kent said that her love for performing arts grew.

“I was always fascinated by the performing arts,” she said. “I like the expression of singing, dancing, and acting. My brother got me to audition for a play when I was a freshman in high school because they needed more people. I was cast in a leading role and it just went from there.”

Since then, Kent has come a long way, both as a performer and a director.

She has starred in roles such as Lady Macbeth in “Macbeth,” and Dolly in the musical “Hello Dolly,” which she considers one of her favorite characters she’s played.

As a director, Kent has also done multiple shows internationally, taking both “Steel Magnolias” and “Macbeth” to New Delhi, India and Maudera, India.

While Kent enjoys performing and directing all over, she does not feel the same “sense of community” in larger productions that she does at Kent State.

“The thing about working professionally as a freelance actor or director (is that) you come together with a cast, you’re so tight for that period of time and then the shows over and everybody is thrown into a million different corners of the universe,” Kent said. “There’s not that sense of community. I have a sense of community here that supports me (and) shares common values and goals. We all teach and we all – the acting faculty – work professionally, as well.”

One of those colleagues, Joni Koneval, a marketing associate in the School of Theatre and Dance, works closely with Kent.

“I’ve worked with Terri since September 2013 when I joined the staff of the School of Theatre and Dance and Porthouse Theatre,” Koneval said. “Terri is fantastic to work with and a wonderful colleague. We have an easy working relationship that is really built on mutual respect and trust.

Koneval said she trusts Kent’s creative decisions and would do anything she can to help bring the community to see the shows at the university and at Porthouse Theatre. 

“Terri is truly a wonderful person who has a fantastic heart,” Koneval said. “One great example of that is her tradition of giving opening night gifts.”

With the current show Kent is directing, “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” she sent out 111 thank you cards to members of the production from all different areas who worked to put the musical together. Part of the reason she does this, she said, is because of the sense of collaboration that goes into any production.

This collaboration is essential to the success of a performance, she said.

“So much of art is a lonely thing,” Kent said. “A painter goes alone and paints, but theatre cannot be created without collaboration.” 

When directing shows at the university, Kent puts a huge emphasis on the education of the students performing and preparing them for the next level. Part of the way she does this is by incorporating modern elements into her productions.

“(One) reason it’s important for me to stay on top of current practices is the education of our students,” Kent said. “They have to know what’s happening (and) the latest practices so they are ready when they go out in the world.”

One student in particular echoes Kent’s success in educating students.

“I’ve worked with her since my freshman year,” said Isabella Trevino, a junior theatre studies major. “It’s educational (and) we learn a lot working with her; she’s a very intense director. She teaches you a lot about what it’s going to be like working in the industry (and that) it’s not as easy as you think it’s going to be.”

This mission differs when Kent takes over the direction of Porthouse Theatre during the summer. While she is still working with students, there are also professional actors involved. With much bigger productions to put on, Kent is left with much more to shoulder.

“At Porthouse, I … feel responsible for so many things. I’ve been very active in the fundraising of our capital campaign,” Kent said. “From selling season subscriptions (and) picking the shows.”

At Porthouse, Kent also picks the lighting designer, sound designer, set designer and costume designers. She said she has a lot more control in those areas.

This summer, Kent is not only starring in Porthouse’s first performance, “Sister Act,” but directing the final show of the summer, “Footloose.”

“I really like the story (of “Footloose),” Kent said. “I think it has a lot of heart. It’s a show about redemption and I don’t like doing anything anymore if the story doesn’t have a redeeming quality by the end.”

For Kent, at the end of the day, it’s all about giving the audience an image for them to take away.

“(The most rewarding part of being a director is) telling the story,” Kent said. “I think theatre should enlighten and entertain; entertainment is great medicine. I love to sit in the back after a show has opened and watch the audience watch the show.”

Jack Kopanski is the performing arts reporter for The Kent Stater, contact him at [email protected]