Senior Spotlight: Life Lessons on the Stage, Screen and in Classroom

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Acting came naturally to young Jack Sterner—as a fun hobby. Recently, through the teaching and mentoring of the expansive BJU community, the graduating theatre major has seen the Lord’s hand in pursuing his passion as a vocation.

Choosing BJU

Through all four years of high school, Sterner participated in the High School Festival & Preaching and Teaching Conference hosted by BJU. But while senior classmates were making college plans, Sterner didn’t have a clear vision of where the Lord would lead.

“I wanted to at least study something I loved,” he said.

Jack Sterner is Edgar in "King Lear"

Jack Sterner is Edgar in “King Lear.”

After starting his college career at another institution and taking a gap year to perform in Florida with the Disney College Program, Sterner transferred to BJU. He knew of the University’s appreciation for theatre and the support it granted the performing arts. He also knew that faculty and guest artists played significant roles in major productions.

“I wasn’t sure what extent of the performing opportunities would be open to me as a student,” Sterner said, but he took the challenge anyway.

In his three years, Sterner performed in 10 productions, including various Concert, Opera & Drama Series programs.

“I found the program was as excellent and challenging as I had hoped and the opportunities for involvement in productions so vast that I was always working on something to further my craft and had the challenge of saying no to many more opportunities available to me,” he said.

Sterner grew from ensemble parts with no lines to principal roles with extended stage time, such as Edgar in King Lear.

Mastering his Craft

While the onstage experience taught him a lot, it has been classroom interaction with faculty members that moved Sterner forward. Professors like Ron Pyle—department head of theatre—and David Schwingle helped Sterner further develop his performance technique. Classes such as advanced acting and voice and articulation have been crucial.

“Learning from a professor like Mr. Pyle, who has been performing and teaching for about twice my lifetime, was humbling and I have been privileged to learn from him,” Sterner said. “My philosophy about theatre and faith was significantly influenced by Dr. Erin Naler in classes like incarnation and the humanities, theatre history and directing.”

Dr. Darren Lawson, dean of the School of Fine Arts and Communication, had an influence on Sterner making the decision to enroll at BJU. They met during high school festival days and hit it off immediately.

“He invested time in me and showed genuine interest and care for who I was as a person and where God was leading me,” Sterner said.

Lawson assured Sterner that he would help and support him at BJU, and Sterner said, “He has been a strong mentor of mine during my time here at school.”

Thanks to these experiences and influences, acting changed the way Sterner saw life. The roles he’s performed have taught him more about humanity and himself.

“Seasoned actors are developed by life experience both on and off the stage. The well they can draw truth and emotion from only gets deeper. Each chance I’ve had to perform here at BJU, in and out of the classroom, has brought depth to the well I can draw from every time I act,” he said.

A Different Set

At the conclusion of his junior year, Sterner was sure he wouldn’t pursue acting past college. The chance of being cast were too slim. But God had a greater plan. Last summer, Sterner had the opportunity to join the Kendrick brothers in their latest film project, Overcomer.

Jack Sterner, second from left, plays Ethan in "Overcomer."

Jack Sterner, second from left, plays Ethan in “Overcomer.”

His role as Ethan, son of the principal character, was his first major role in front of a camera. Sterner was used to filling large spaces such as Rodeheaver Auditorium, which seats nearly 3,000, so when filming began for Overcomer translating stage acting to film was a challenge.“I had a lot of jargon to learn so I understood what they needed me to do and minimizing my presence so I wasn’t too dynamic for the camera,” he said.

Sterner was able to face the challenge by remembering the things he learned in the classroom.

“Those experiences developed my ability to be vulnerable and truthful in my performance onscreen just as it has done for me onstage,” he said.

The feature film will be shown in select theatres starting August 23. During that month, Sterner will be traveling with the cast to promote the project. He was also cast to portray Davey in the Disney musical Newsies at the Greenville Theatre. He’ll be spending a summer full of rehearsals for the production, which will open in September.

See Also: BJU students work on Overcomer

He’ll continue to pursue other acting jobs, whether on screen or stage, and desires to stay connected with his BJU peers and professors.

“The people I’ve had the blessing of interacting with have been the single most valuable thing about my time at BJU and I hope I can continue to invest in those relationships regardless of where God sends me next,” he said.