Governor’s School at UVa-Wise builds sense of community

By Kathy Still


Campus can grow quiet in July when the summer lull is in full swing, but not in the Gilliam Center for the Arts at The University of Virginia’s College at Wise. 

The constant swish of paint brushes competes with the high pitched whirl of drills and saws and the dull thud of hammers as nearly two dozen high school juniors and seniors from 14 different school districts work to build a set for Shakespeare’s “As You Like It.” Actors rehearse lines in a nearby practice area as others stitch costumes upstairs. 

Each person has a role to play in order to stage a performance in just three weeks, but working together as a community is one of the major goals of the Governor’s School program at UVa-Wise. 

“We’re trying to teach them about theater and Shakespeare, but the goal is to also teach them about community and citizenship,” said Michael McNulty, a theater professor and head of the Governor’s School program at UVa-Wise. 

The program is a three-week residential program for juniors and seniors who have shown significant effort and success in performance or technical theater. The students live in the residence halls while studying and earning college credit in theater arts. The program is sponsored by the Virginia Department of Education. 

“We teach them how to divide labor and share the responsibility for a production,” McNulty said. “It is a model for community, and it teaches them how to become constituents in a community and how everybody brings something to the process, regardless of skill level.” 

Students begin a typical day in class studying topics such as acting, text analysis, theater history, design and technical theater, McNulty explained. The work challenges the students and encourages them along the way. Afternoons include applying what they learned in the classroom to rehearsals and the production of “As You Like It.” Evenings and weekends are for social interaction, games, movies and field trips to observe what they have learned as they watch performances at venues in other parts of Virginia. 

Various faculty and staff from the Department of Visual and Performing Arts at UVa-Wise teach in the program. Recent UVa-Wise graduates and current students also lend a hand during the summer. 

“It’s hard to convey to incoming college students the reality of a theater program,” McNulty said. We have found that high school students who come here and participate in the Governor’s School program gain a true understanding of the hard work that is necessary for a successful theater program. When those students choose to come to UVa-Wise to attend college and major in theater, they know what they are getting into.”


McNulty said about 26 percent of his theater majors attended Governor’s School when they were in high school. Recent graduate Joshua Worrell attended Governor’s School and he now serves as a resident assistant for the program. He also helps the students in the classroom. 

“We make sure the students are happy and healthy,” Worrell said. “We try to set a good example and serve as classroom specialists. I feel as if the students are learning a lot. Some who were timid at first when they begin the program are now speaking up and showing what they have learned.” 

Jessica Mullins, a UVa-Wise student and resident assistant in the program, agrees. 

“I saw the directors giving the actors some ideas about their roles and showing them how to run with it,” she said. “I noticed those same actors making it happen today.” 

Grace Martin, a Floyd County High student, landed the lead in “As You Like It.” She is participating in the program for the first time. 

“My theater director told me about the program and said I should fill out an application,” Martin said. “I really like the program. We learn so much in the classes.” 

Martin said she has UVa-Wise as one of her options for college as she finishes her high school career.

Additional information:

The Governor’s School at The University of Virginia’s College at Wise is a regional program serving school divisions in Wise, Scott, Lee, Dickenson, Buchanan, Bland, Carroll, Giles, Grayson, Pulaski, Russell, Smyth, Tazewell, Washington, Wythe, Floyd and Patrick counties as well as the cities of Norton, Radford, Bristol and Galax.