Live to Inspire: Austin Manning ‘11

September 18, 2014

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Never let 39 cents stand in the way of your education. That’s the message Austin Manning ’11 received, along with a postage stamp, from a Texas Lutheran University admissions representative encouraging him to send his information. Now in his third year as a graduate student at the University of Virginia, Manning shares how his decision to attend TLU was one of the best choices he has made. As a freshman from Spring, Texas, Manning knew he wanted to expand his high school theatre background by joining TLU’s dramatic media department. He came into the technical theatre program as a carpenter and began working with Professor Terry Price on set design and construction. That one-on-one interaction, he said, is what gave him the confidence to know he could make a career out of building theatre sets.

“Working with Terry was very much like doing a four-year independent study,” Manning said. “He let me make decisions and be competitive. I learned so much from him and the dramatic media department offers opportunities for students to become leaders. I was able to run productions for the theatre season under their direction. The amount of support and experiences both Terry and Professor Dave Legore gave me was invaluable.”

Coupled with his involvement in dramatic media, Manning’s participation in the Omega Tau Fraternity is another way he says TLU helped his personal development.

“As a member of Omega Tau, I was always working with volunteers,” Manning said. “Much like theatre, I was in charge of keeping things organized, motivating my volunteers and working as a team. Being in a fraternity was more than just having a good time. It gave me skills that have translated into my professional life where I continue working with volunteers who often work without pay. At TLU, I learned how to keep people invested and get them to go the extra mile to make something successful.”

After graduating from TLU, Manning was stage manager for the Shamu and dolphin shows at SeaWorld in San Antonio. In addition to earning his master’s degree, he leads student crews at Summer Repertory Theatre at Santa Rosa Junior College in California. The workshops consist of seven-week programs where Manning and his team build entire sets for multiple productions. His most recent work includes building a theatre-in-the-round and an intricate door system for the French farce A Flea In Her Ear, as well as designing the cartoonish set for a theatre version of Shrek. For a production of the musical 9 To 5, Manning was able to cut off and repurpose the back end of an old car and modify it to roll on and off stage. His greatest achievement to date, he said, was the Vegas-themed set he created for a version of La Cage aux Folles (The Birdcage) that included a fully functioning elevator.

With his M.F.A. in technical direction and various theatre credits, Manning will not only build shows, he will oversee budgets, as well as manage all engineering, special effects and facilities aspects of a production. Even as he continues down a more professional, post-graduate path, Manning said he’ll always come back to TLU and the memories of his time on campus.

“TLU has a place for everybody,” Manning said. “If you’re looking for a place to find yourself, TLU can provide that experience.”

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