The Arts and Education
by Natalie Franklin
Gregory J. Horton
Gregory J. Horton is an Associate Professor and Interim Chair of the Visual and Performing Arts Department at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University. His concentration is Costume Design and Directing. Horton is a native of North Carolina, but his passion for the arts and theatre has taken him all over the country.
Horton received his Bachelor of Science in home economics with a minor in theatre from North Carolina Central University, and he later earned a Masters of Fine Arts in theatre with a concentration in costume design from Michigan State University.
Horton always had a passion for theatre, but like so many students who are interested in pursuing the arts at a collegiate level, he was discouraged from pursuing his passion.
“I really wanted to do theatre in the beginning, but she [Horton’s high school academic advisor] said to me, ‘Greg, I think you need to choose something where you’ll make money because with theatre, you’ll probably be a starving artist.’”
With this advice at the forefront of his mind, Horton entered college with the intentions of pursuing a degree in physical therapy. However, as most people know, if you don’t pursue your passion, you won’t be happy.
“It was fine until I got to biochemistry,” Horton joked. “I figured out that this is not what I wanted to do.”
Horton decided to transfer to North Carolina Central and finally pursue his passion for the arts. Immediately after gaining his B.S., Horton earned his MFA in theatre and began to teach theatre and the arts.
“This is my 31st year of teaching,” Horton stated proudly.
Horton has worked in the arts departments of several colleges and universities. He has travelled to New York, Utah, Texas and several other states. He also worked in the 1996 Olympic Games as the assistant wardrobe supervisor.
“I’ve enjoyed being able to be an educator, an administrator, and I’ve done outside work during the summers,” Horton said. “The most wonderful thing is when you have students that you teach make it to Broadway and they invite you to their shows. All the memories of them growing in the field come back and it just gives you such great pleasure to know that you touched their lives somehow.” Horton has a unique perspective of the educational system since he has made a career in the arts by utilizing not only his natural talents but also the skills and techniques that come with an education. Many students that have a desire to pursue the arts in higher education are oftentimes discouraged or persuaded to focus on other fields. Horton himself experienced this discouragement when he was a young student.
“I think that if the arts are for you, then it doesn’t matter what somebody will ask you or say that they think you should do. You’re going to find a way to make it work for you so that
you’re able to live a happy life.”
Horton points out that being happy doesn’t equate to being wealthy or in a place of power. Happiness stems from a place within yourself.
“If you know that this is what you really want to do...then you will always be successful,” Horton said.
Some people may argue that if you’re naturally talented in acting, singing or performing, then you will not need to pursue an education in those areas, but Horton strongly disagrees. Through his experiences and teaching opportunities, Horton came in contact with singer-songwriter Fantasia Barrino. Horton recounts a time when he was working on the set of a play in which Fantasia was staring. He describes her as a powerhouse performer and talented singer. However, because she lacked formal training and education in theatre practices, she missed some shows.
“She didn’t know how to do eight shows a week,” Horton said. “She was singing with her whole heart and energy, and that takes a lot.”
Horton explained that with formal training, she would have known certain practices that theatre professionals utilize to save their voice and preserve their energy.
“You learn how to save your voice. You can’t talk when you leave that stage... that’s called training.”
An education in the arts, if that is your passion, is an investment in your talents, and it definitely pays off.
“I think what a B.A. in theatre will do for a student is to train them and to discipline them into being a professional,” Horton said.
However, talent is only the first step. That formal training is crucial and can take an individual one step further.
“The students come with it already, so all we’re doing as teachers and administrators is pulling that out so that the student recognizes that they have it. They have the ‘It.’”