As he prepares to step into his new role as associate dean at the Noonkester School of Arts & Letters at William Carey University, Tim Matheny, assistant professor of theatre at Mississippi State University, has a love for people and theatre that will be missed. Born in Tennessee but a self-proclaimed Mississippi native, Matheny attended college at William Carey in Hattiesburg after growing up in Brandon, Mississippi. Although he got a small taste of theatre through performing skits at his church, Mathey said his first true taste of theatre was when some friends in college invited him to take part in the theatre program. He assisted with props for a show. After helping with props, he was hooked. He soon auditioned for and started acting in the following show.
Matheny said it was the character development aspect of acting which truly captivated him.
"I really enjoyed the whole process of finding a character and telling a story and becoming someone else. It wasn't so much the applause or the appreciation of the audience but the process that got me," Matheny said.
Matheny then changed his major to theatre. After graduating, he moved to Lexington, Kentucky to work as a student minister at a small church and attend seminary. At this point in his life, Matheny said he felt unsettled.
"Every day that I was on campus at seminary, I just got an overwhelming sense that this was not where I was supposed to be. And it was weird because you'd think that if God is telling you something, it is probably to go to seminary, but it was so clear that it wasn't where I was supposed to be," Matheny said.
A friend told him about a master of fine arts program at the University of Louisville, and Matheny moved there. He spent three years getting his degree. During this time, Matheny saw his life going in a different direction than he previously thought.
"The whole time I was in Louisville, my idea of ministry and what ministry could be shifted. I didn't necessarily feel called to ministry in a church, but I wanted to train people, and since I had fallen in love with theatre, I thought, well, God is going to use theatre," Matheny said.
He knew he wanted to teach theatre, and he accepted a position at William Carey. A few years into his teaching career, he and his family served as missionaries in Moscow, Russia. After three years of being overseas, they ran into some visa issues, forcing the family to return to the United States where Matheny resumed his job at William Carey. Soon after, he was offered his current job at MSU and felt it was an opportunity he could not pass up. Since then, Matheny has cherished his time as a Bulldog.
"I really do love it. I love my work, I love my colleagues, I love my students, but when William Carey called to offer me an associate deanship, I felt like it was a position I just couldn't refuse," he explained.
He had a hard time picking a favorite show, but he greatly enjoyed his first show at Theatre MSU, "Pinocchio," because it marks the time when he was getting to know the students here. He also demonstrated a love for children's shows.
"Being able to expose a child to theatre who has maybe never experienced it gives them a sense of wonder. It is different from a movie because you have to use your imagination and be personal with it, and so, seeing them react in a different way than they would if they were watching a movie or playing a video game is really special," Matheny said.
Melanie Harris is a communication instructor at MSU and works closely with Matheny. They have known each other for over 20 years, and they have both been part of Mississippi's theatre community. Harris said she is sad to see Matheny go, but grateful for his time at MSU and excited for this new chapter he is embarking upon. Harris explained Matheny has played a vital part in theatre at MSU.
"First and foremost, he has brought sheer, unadulterated talent, talent that is completely balanced with humanity, humility and maturity. He is always collaborative and wants to work together. He has become this sort of rock at the center of what we are doing. We know he is going to make the best decision. He is just so dependable, and so steady," Harris said.
Dr. Rickey Travis, dean and professor in the College of Arts & Sciences, has also appreciated Matheny's contribution to Theatre MSU. Travis pointed out that his impact goes beyond the students and colleagues with whom he works.
"The expectations he has for students and for his colleagues and himself have been translated into the productions we see. Other than the students, it is us, the ones who attend the productions, who are the most direct beneficiaries of his work," Travis said.
It is fitting for Matheny's last show at MSU to be "Mamma Mia," a show which is a sort of celebration in and of itself.
Matheny said he is impressed with the talent pool he is working with, and the students have exceeded his expectations since the first rehearsal. He expounded on his vision for the show, explaining he wants it to be very engaging for the audience.
"This show is about fun. It is also a balance. Theatre is supposed to teach, as well as to entertain, and there are lessons to be learned in this show as well. At the same time, our mantra has been that we want the audience to have fun. By the end of this show, I am hoping people want to get up and dance. It is going to be a party," Matheny said.