Professor of many faces: Profile of Charlton James

Professor Charlton James will be teaching courses over acting, stage make-up and elements of theater this coming this semester.

UNA assistant professor of theater Charlton James hasn’t always helped UNA students attain their theater aspirations. Going into his fifth year full time at UNA, James has a lot more than teaching experience under his belt.

Originally from northern Alabama, James has, in some ways, come full circle.

“I grew up in Russellville and went to an actor training program at the University of Utah,” he said. “I got my BFA in acting and interned at the National Shakespeare Theater in (Washington) D.C., where I got to work with Patrick Stewart and Kelly McGillis.”

James went on to get his MFA in classical theater and work in New York City as an actor.

“I worked in New York until the Trade Center fell,” he said. “I came back here and made a phone call to UNA and left a message. It turned out they needed an adjunct.”

One of the biggest developments in the UNA theater department since James’ time at UNA was the opening of the George S. Lindsey Theater—a black box theater—and Ernest Borgnine Performance Hall. James, who teaches all the theater program’s performance classes, helped bring the theater to campus.

“I helped make a push for it, because there was a need for it,” he said. “Norton is shared by the entire campus. The black box is designated for theater students to use; it’s ours. It gives theater a home where we can be as creative as we want to be.

“The black box gives us an opportunity to do more contemporary plays. It’s meant for more intimate performances and theater audiences.”

Theater, however, isn’t James’ only passion. He is also a singer-songwriter.

“One of the reasons I came back here initially was because of the musical history here,” he said. “There are a lot of creative opportunities in this area.

“I listen to and play a little of everything, really. Lots of contemporary stuff—gospel, blues, rock, country, folk. I really like Amos Lee.”

Among James’ long list of favorite film actors are Kevin Spacey, Daniel Day-Lewis, Jim Carrey and Robin Williams, but his favorite play is “Death of a Salesman,” in which he had the chance to perform last summer with UNA’s summer theater program.

“Every summer we have a small budget to bring in about three professionals to work on a play,” he said. “This year, we’re working on ‘A Streetcar Named Desire.’ It’s a great opportunity for our students to network with established professionals.”

James said he believes the Muscle Shoals area is a hub for creativity and that the theater program should work to foster creativity with students.

“Our responsibility is to give students a platform to be creative,” he said. “It really is in the water around here.”

For students considering a theater degree, James said they should try it out first.

“I wouldn’t jump to a decision too quickly,” he said. “Take an acting class if you’re not sure. If it’s something you want to do, do it. Just know—with anything creative like this—you face the possibility of not always having stability.

“But I have yet to see someone dedicated, disciplined and with real desire not making a living acting.”

And James said students don’t necessarily have to study acting in New York City to be successful.

“I left this area feeling like I had to leave to succeed,” he said. “I want to change that idea, and that’s why I’m back.”