Screenwriting professor Ron Stacker Thompson on acting, teaching, and the power of storytelling

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Ron Stacker Thompson always knew he wanted to teach. In fact, the chair of the School of Filmmaking’s screenwriting department began his professional career as an educator, teaching English at the high school and college levels. Between those early days of teaching and his decades-long tenure as a professor at UNCSA, he also enjoyed many years of success in theater and film.

Although the medium has varied, the common thread of Thompson’s career has always been that of storytelling. “In theater, in movies, in writing, in acting, all of these things are about speaking the truth and creating characters who speak the truth. It might not always sound like your truth, but it is all about telling the truth. ‘is often the case, “he says. “What always grabs me are the things people go through that are so similar.”

Her mission at the School of Filmmaking is to help filmmakers gain a similar appreciation for the power of storytelling – finding their own voice and discovering the joys of writing.

Thompson teaches a class via Zoom

Education comes full circle

Thompson grew up in Chicago knowing he wanted to be a teacher and attended Illinois State University, which at the time was devoted solely to training educators. He graduated in English and taught high school for a few years before moving to the West Coast, where he worked at Meritt College in Oakland, California. At Merritt he taught ethnic studies and dramatic arts and ran his own theater company, The Oakland Ensemble Company, specializing in multiracial casting.

When he agreed to teach drama he had no acting experience and felt that in order to teach art it was “just logical” to study drama on his own. When he started auditioning he began securing roles, most notably as the first black actor to play Jesus on the nationwide tour of the hit musical “Godspell”.

After immersing himself in theater for many years, he turned to film and television. He has worked as a screenwriter and producer on several films including “Sister Act 2”, “America’s Dream” and “Deep Cover” with actors like Danny Glover, Whoopi Goldberg, Ellen Burstyn, Laurence Fishburne, Jeff Goldblum and Maggie Smith, between others. .

Eventually, however, education returned, this time to the UNCSA Film School.

A sense of belonging

Thompson joined the faculty of UNCSA in 1998, a few years after the film school was established.

The move came after several years of working in the film industry, where Thompson found himself questioning his career and wanting to teach again.

“The same things I say to my students, I had to tell them to myself,” he recalls. “Did I really want to do this the rest of my life?” Then he heard about the job openings at UNCSA and came to campus to tour and interview.

“This place called me. I felt such a sense of belonging here.”

Ron S. Thompson, on his first impressions of UNCSA

“This place called me,” he says. “I felt such a sense of belonging here.” This sentiment, he adds, has remained constant over the years, while teaching hundreds of students at the School of Filmmaking.

Create in the community

This sense of belonging also extends to his work outside of UNCSA, where he has continued to cultivate his love of storytelling through performance, theater and oral creation projects in the community.

He carries out some of these projects for the pure pleasure of creating and playing. Two years ago, Thompson and his wife, Cle, celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary with “Daze Of Our Lives”, a multi-faceted performance that told their life story through song, dance, theater, comedy and storytelling.

Screenshot of Daze of Our Lives

Ron S. Thompson and Cle Thompson in “Daze of Our Lives”

For many years he was artistic director of the Willingham Theater at the Yadkin Cultural Arts Center. An outgrowth of this work is the Willingham Story Slam, a partnership with MUSE Winston-Salem (Museum of Understanding, Storytelling and Engagement). Regular events invite community members to participate by sharing short personal stories, often around a theme, similar to NPR’s Moth Radio Hour.

“I have lived in so many different places, and there is something really special about this region,” he says. “There is a calm, sensitive beauty here that people don’t always realize. But I think people are starting to claim it.”

Teach the individual

During his years as an instructor, Thompson developed an individualized teaching style. “I see each person as the individual they are. What do they want or need?”

What they didn’t realize is that this language speaks of them, of expressing who they are and what they feel. … Do you have something to say. Let’s find a way to take advantage of it.

Ron S. Thompson

One thing he often finds that students have in common, however, is that they enter their first year of college with an aversion to English and writing. “What they didn’t realize is that this language speaks to them, to express who they are and how they feel,” says Thompson. “I had a high school teacher, Ms. Sams, who taught me, ‘You have something to say. Let’s find a way to enjoy it.'” He tries to help film students find joy. to write through his lessons.

Among the courses he teaches, he has one he created called “The Business of Show”. It’s a self-discovery course, he says – a course that teaches both the practical aspects of working in show business and some of the less tangible aspects of the industry.

“I want students to think of themselves in terms of show business,” he says. “There are both negative and positive aspects of the business and I want to help them find ways to navigate these waters.”

He encourages them to explore some of these aspects in class. “What do you do when someone rejects you or rejects your job? ” he asks. “Are you getting mad at yourself or at them?” Or do you go back and really think about your job, yourself and them? There is always someone who wants what you have to offer. ”

by Corrine Luthy

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October 11, 2021


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