The Art of Becoming

Grace Thornton Experience, Spring 2021

Stewart Hawley says the feeling is strange and a little hard to describe, but a lot of theatre people have it.

“There’s a yearning; you feel like acting is what you have to do to use your art to connect with and reach people,” he said. “There’s a need — kind of like being a minister — it’s something you have to do because you can’t do anything else.”

Hawley, who recently became chair of the Department of Theatre in the Alabama School of the Arts at the University of Mobile, has had that feeling ever since he quit band in junior high and his mom told him he had to find something else to do to replace it.

“She said, ‘Why don’t you take a theatre class?’ So I did, and I fell in love with it,” he said. “For me, it was a calling.”

Hawley earned his master’s degree in theatre and worked with a variety of professional acting groups and projects over the years. He became a stuntman and was certified in stage combat, trained by a professor who is now head of the movement department at The Julliard School.

At one stop on Hawley’s journey, he joined the A.D. Players, a professional theatre group in Houston, Texas, that aims to produce compelling theatre from a Christian worldview that engages a diverse audience. He found it to be a place where he was really able to connect his faith with his art.

“For me, it’s like where Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 9:22 how to the weak he becomes weak for the sake of the gospel,” Hawley said. “In theatre, the actor becomes something else for the sake of the gospel. I do what I do so that people can understand what the gospel is about.”

Hawley wanted to be able to pass that on to theatre students and help them grow in connecting their art and their faith.

“What we try to gain with our students here is an authenticity in their artistry, to be authentic and real on stage,” he said. “I think that’s what God would want us to be as well.”

Tabitha Robinson, a senior theatre student, says Hawley’s classes have definitely made an impact on her.

“Stewart is the kind of teacher who takes time, effort and strength to teach his students,” she said. “Not only does he take on the journey of learning with his students, he takes on the trials and the victories as well. He challenges us and encourages us. His passion for theatre is just as much as his passion for seeing his students succeed and learn new things.”

Hawley says he’s excited to be a part of the University of Mobile family — he already feels known and welcomed in, something he also wants to pass along to his students.

He’s enjoyed building UM’s theatre department around the vision of connecting art and faith and helping students working toward bachelor’s degrees in performance, as well as directing and stage management.

And he’s enjoyed seeing students find new and creative ways to grow in their art, even in the midst of a global pandemic. For instance, when all the theatres were closed at the beginning of fall semester, the theatre department built an outdoor stage with a two-story set so they could keep performances going.

“We just want to keep the momentum and keep our students growing,” Hawley said. “I tell them, ‘I just want to help you become the artist God created you to be.’”

About the Author

Grace Thornton