Professor Ev Lunning Jr- ONLINE ONLY

Gabrielle Wilkosz

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Assistant Professor of Theater Arts Ev Lunning, Jr. is retiring this spring after a fruitful, lively career. Actor, director, musician, athlete and educator, Lunning will continue to visit campus and stay involved. Before his final semester comes to its close, Lunning shares some words of wisdom with Hilltop Views.

Edited for length and clarity.

Hilltop Views: You were educated at Yale University. As a freshman, did you ever imagine that you would end up in Austin as a professor, basically following your dreams in a different way than you had imagined?

Ev Lunning, Jr: When I was a freshman in college I was clueless about a lot of things. I wasn’t planning into the future much more than one semester ahead. When I was a freshman in college, I was on the football team, I joined the drama club and made friends there who I still keep in touch with today. I might have envisioned becoming an English teacher, but I was fixed on a career in performance.

Hilltop Views: What was your parents’ response to pursuing a career in performance?

Lunning: It made their eyes cross a little bit. But bless their hearts, they bit their tongue and they said, “Alright, we’ll help you see it through.” To be truthful, graduate programs then, unlike graduate programs today, weren’t really oriented to help people make their way in the business. I had to learn from friends and classmates and then through job searching activities in New York. I didn’t have a good crystal ball. What is it they say? Life is just one thing after another.

Hilltop Views: Why did you move to Austin?

Lunning: My first wife was someone who I had known since high school. We’d both grown up in Iowa where the winters were very harsh. When she graduated from college, she went to Florida where her family was and she was used to Florida winters. So when we weathered three Illinois winters, she said, “I’m ready to move to the south.” And we started looking for jobs.

I interviewed in Georgia and I came down to Austin. I recognized that Austin was a very special place even in 1983 so we followed the weather. That was a big trend in the 1970s, people talked about moving to the sunbelt.

Hilltop Views: In terms of spirituality, can you attest to whether or not a sense of spirituality or connectedness has guided you in your life?

Lunning: Theater started as a religious experience. In Athenian society, it was part of the religious festival in honor of Dionysus. In western Europe after the Dark Ages, theater started again as an offshoot of the mass. In other words, you can’t be in theater and not have a spiritual consciousness. Theater is all about standing in someone else’s shoes and presenting an experience in a way that communicates to an audience of people.

Hilltop Views: When you think of your time here spent at St. Edward’s University, what is one of the most remarkable memories you have?

Lunning: In 2005, the year of Hurricane Katrina, we did a play about the career of Cesar Chavez called “Cesar and Ruben.” We came to do this play because of Brother Gerald Muller. I was appointed Artistic Director of the theater and Brother Gerald called to me from across campus and he said, “You call Ed Begley Jr. He’s got a play for you.” The emotional part is that in the first weekend of the play, 100 people from the Valley, all members of the United Farm Worker’s Union, had t-shirts made and everything. Then we got in contact with University Advancement and we had to move the opening up three days so that we could have a gala event that benefited the CAMP program. We raised $40,000. So that’s the event. It has all those strands to it.

Hilltop Views: You have a lot of varied interests. From academic interests to thespianism to being a teacher and professor. How have these passions made you who you are?

Lunning: Let me start with teaching. When I finished my graduate program, the usual path is to go out and find some sort of work in the performing field. And I did that. I interviewed with agents. Agents sent me on auditions. I auditioned for productions. I was cast in a play, I got connected with a temporary agency and I even got an extra job on a soap opera. And so in the space of six months all of this good stuff happened, but I wasn’t feeling very good. Part of my psychological make up, I was not equipped to handle constant rejection because for every 20 auditions you get, you get positive feedback for maybe one performance.

I also wanted to go back home and work at a summer theater that I had worked at for five years before. Then a friend of mine got married and suggested I interview at the high school where he was working. I interviewed and I was hired. So I had a choice. Do I go back to New York City or do I take this teaching job? Of course, a teaching job is convenient because it’s steady and a paycheck comes every month. And it paid more than clerking for the temporary agency.

So I started teaching, and my first semester of teaching was really tough. I had all kinds of training as a performer, but no training as a teacher. I was having to make it up as I went along based on how I had been taught in high school, which was not always successful. But then I hung on and second semester was the absolute opposite. It was a 180 degree turnaround. I found a groove and then I got connected to the community where the high school was.

I started doing community theater there and I also had a chance to do music, which I hadn’t had a chance to do while I was in New York. That turned into a 13 year stint as an English/speech/theater teacher. And I started to gain real satisfaction from working with students. And I got satisfaction from the connections in the community, through theater and music. That’s what turned into a career.

Then I moved to Austin and taught for two years in a private school and for six years in the public school system and started getting connected in the Austin theater community.

Hilltop Views: With all these experiences in mind, what would be your final words of wisdom to students, administrative staff and faculty before you retire?

Lunning: President Dr. George Martin is really good at articulating the important accomplishments of all branches of the University and expressing how St. Edward’s really is a special place. It’s special in the physical sense, a pleasant spot on the hilltop. It’s special in the way faculty and staff work together to support students. It’s special in the extraordinary accomplishments of students. My hope would be that people keep the mission firmly in mind and continue to work to achieve that mission.