Candace Vance ’95, left, has been teaching at SPU for nine years and is the new head of SPU’s theatre major’s performance emphasis.
As new head of the performance emphasis of Seattle Pacific University’s theatre major, Candace Vance ’95 recently moved into the office — and the job — of her mentor, Professor Emeritus George Scranton.
The office she has made her own, with a fresh coat of bright yellow paint, a modern pedestal desk and two geometrically patterned yellow and gray wingback chairs.
The job? She’s working to put a unique stamp on that, too.
Vance beat out three dozen other applicants to take the retiring professor’s position. Before her current role, she was an adjunct professor at Seattle Pacific for nine years. She offered important input when SPU created an acting track for theatre majors six years ago and has been teaching its courses ever since.
“Candace was a strong candidate because the position involved doing most of what she was doing already,” said department chair Andrew Ryder. “She has been a voice for years and now can take the lead on that as full-time faculty.”
Vance credits her teaching ability and style to Karen Lund. Lund is associate artistic director at Taproot Theatre Company, a professional theatre in Seattle founded in 1976 by five SPU graduates and a friend.
Vance and Lund taught together from 1995 to 2005.
Vance did a professional residency with The National Ministry of Culture in Spain in 1999 and earned a master’s degree from London’s Rose Bruford College of Theatre and Performance in 2005. In addition to her ongoing work in many professional theatres, Vance's affiliation with Taproot spans more than 20 years as an actor, writer, and director.
Key to good acting and teaching, Vance says, is experimenting.
“I invite my students into the process immediately to make their own discoveries,” she says. “Ninety-nine percent of what you try doesn’t work. But if you’re afraid to go for it, then you’ll never get to that 1 percent, which is a meaningful, evocative performance.”
As the director of the first of five shows the department will mount for its 55th season, Vance has worked daily with students on Elephant’s Graveyard, sharing her vision, exploring the world of the play, helping create characters, collaborating with design and production teams, staging, and guiding students toward authentic performances.
Elephant’s Graveyard — a 2008 play by George Brant — unpacks themes surrounding the real-life lynching of an elephant in 1916 Tennessee. Themes and characters made the play challenging to produce, Vance says, and she spent time praying about how audiences would respond to themes of injustice, anger, hypocrisy, and racism.
She and the department chose the play in the end because it creates “a lens through which we might see our own world more clearly.”
Vance’s passion for theatre and for her students prepared 2015 graduate Hannah Schuerman for professional acting and life.
“Candace showed me how to work towards being a healthy human being and a healthy actor,” Schuerman says. “She is a constant example of how to be graceful, kind, and understanding while being extremely strong, persistent, and true to self. When I got my first professional role, I texted her first.”
Vance hopes students she trains will impact those who create theatre as well as those who attend it.
“I would like to mobilize our graduates so they can be the hands and feet of Jesus for the artists they work with who aren’t going to go to church,” Vance says. “To do that, they need to be incredibly competent as actors and have great depth of character.”