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Appalachian alumnus and professor gives back through student scholarships, presents ‘Roxanne’s Rivalry’ fundraiser March 4

By Meghan McCandless

Theatre Professor Gordon Hensley ’98 has always been drawn to Appalachian State University. First as a theatre education student and now as a faculty member, his passion for the Department of Theatre and Dance runs deep. Five years ago, Hensley, who also directs the department’s theatre education program, saw a need in his area and jumped on the chance to make a difference by creating the Theatre Education Alumni Scholarship.

Awarded to five theatre education majors each spring, the scholarship is designed to reward and retain students in the theatre community, with recipients mentoring younger students, volunteering at department events and attending conferences.

Hensley, who grew up in the Linville Falls area, was a scholarship recipient himself and experienced first-hand how much students appreciate financial help. He is also a proponent of giving back.

“There aren’t many scholarships specific to theatre education, and I saw this as a way to keep students in the theatre ed concentration,” he said. “I was also raised under the premise that we should all give back.”

Hensley, who now directs the program from which he graduated, didn’t always plan on a teaching career. He arrived at Appalachian planning to major in performance, but after taking a few theatre education classes, he realized that working with kids was his passion.

“I had an imaginative childhood and am good at devising my own theatre,” he said. “Theatre education was a natural fit.”

After completing his bachelor’s in theatre education from Appalachian, he landed at another ASU – Arizona State University – where he received his MFA in theatre, concentrating in theatre education and theatre for young audiences. He stayed in Arizona as an adjunct for Arizona State and Mesa Community College until the professorship at Appalachian opened up 13 years ago.

He learned quite a bit while out west, and after developing the Theatre Education Alumni Scholarship, he had an idea. Why not put on an interactive fundraiser for the community? He’d taken part in several in Arizona, including bingo and raffle fundraisers. Thus, the idea for “Roxanne’s Rivalry” was born.

After months of conceptualizing the production, Hensley premiered “Roxanne’s Rivalry” in fall 2016. The show is an hour-long “Family Feud” style guessing game with a drag queen host, real audience participation, prizes and drag performances by special guests. The fall show drew a large crowd and raised more than $600 for the scholarship.

“My favorite aspect of the show is normalizing what has stereotypically been a marginalized performance style,” said Hensley. “Many of the audience members at the fall show had never seen a drag queen, and Roxanne is a fun, theatrical performer.”

Hensley is offering the fundraiser again March 4 in the Valborg Theatre at 7 p.m. Tickets are $5 for students, $10 for university employees, and $15 for the general public and are available at the Valborg Theatre box office and will be available at the door. Proceeds will help continue funding the Theatre Education Alumni Scholarship.

Department of Theatre and Dance Chair Kevin Warner applauds Hensley for sharing his gifts as a creative artist.

“We are delighted to support Gordon’s show, and are so grateful that he has identified our Theatre and Dance Department scholarship fund to receive the proceeds from the event,” he said. “Our scholarships provide direct tuition assistance to students planning to pursue a career in theatre and/or dance. They recognize our best and brightest, as well as students who demonstrate significant financial need.”

Hensley is also encouraging the local and university community to join him in giving back to all Appalachian students.

“I’m lucky enough to have a great job and dependable paycheck,” he said. “My heart calls me to support students and help fund their education.”

About the Department of Theatre and Dance

The Department of Theatre and Dance is one of seven departments housed in Appalachian’s College of Fine and Applied Arts. Its mission is to facilitate transformative experiences for students and the public, which cultivate compassionate, creative and collaborative communities through theatre and dance. The department also offers coursework for integrated learning through the arts to the general university student population. Its dynamic co-curricular production program provides exemplary theatre and dance experiences to departmental students, the university community and the region.

About Appalachian

Appalachian State University, in North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains, prepares students to lead purposeful lives as global citizens who understand and engage their responsibilities in creating a sustainable future for all. The transformational Appalachian experience promotes a spirit of inclusion that brings people together in inspiring ways to acquire and create knowledge, to grow holistically, to act with passion and determination, and embrace diversity and difference. As one of 17 campuses in the University of North Carolina system, Appalachian enrolls about 18,000 students, has a low student-to-faculty ratio and offers more than 150 undergraduate and graduate majors.