When civil engineering student Jim Driscoll began studying at UMR, the first club he joined was not a technical design group, but rather an assembly of stage performers.
“I’d done a lot of acting back home in Howell County, Mo., and I wanted to continue to be involved in the theater,” Driscoll says. “I talked to UMR theater director John Woodfin, instructor of philosophy and theater at UMR, and I was sold!”
This March, Driscoll plays multiple roles in the UMR production of Little Shop of Horrors, including Orin Scrivello, the sadistic dentist; Skip Spence, an East Coast agent; Patrick Martin, a sleazy opportunist, and the lovely Mrs. Luce. Driscoll discovered the joys of acting when he was a kindergarten student, but he didn’t perform in anything more than holiday pageants and skits until he hit high school. “After my freshman year, I was cast in a community production,” Driscoll says. “I got attached to the stage instantly. If love at first sight really exists, it certainly happened to me then.”
Driscoll, a senior at UMR, says it was the opportunity “to be someone else” that got him hooked. “I wasn’t Jim living in the 21st Century anymore,” he explains. “I was Tom Jones in 1750 or Ralph Nikelby in London, or Willard Hewitt down in Texas learning how to dance.”
“Acting allows me to break out of my naturally reclusive shell as another person,” he says. “For me, it’s like getting out of Rolla, and away from equations, textbooks and reports to truly be someone else that makes me love it.”
Over the years, Jim Driscoll has logged many hours in rehearsals and performances, remaining a vibrant force in Rolla’s theatre community. There have been times, he says, when his exposure was more than he expected.
“I’ve learned a lot about theatre since I’ve been at UMR,” he says, “but one of the most important lessons was to always make sure the costume fits properly. During one musical, the lady fitting us for costumes measured me incorrectly. I kept protesting her measurement, but when opening night came, I found myself in pants that were far too small.”
The song and dance routine Driscoll had to perform before intermission was challenging. “I had to jump up onto this waist-high platform – twice! The first time I heard a rip sound. I felt a draft down my legs. I knew I was in trouble! I did everything I could to make sure the audience wasn’t ‘flashed’ and during intermission the pants were repaired, but the next night I had properly fitting pants, in the size I knew that I wore.”
What inspires this thespian? “A challenge,” he says with a grin. “If you want to see me mad, give me a task that stumps me. Ben Franklin is my hero. Not because he’s on the hundred dollar bill, but because I have read his autobiography and I am just amazed how that man’s mind worked. He seemed to be able to find solutions to any problem, and he had a brilliant wit.”
As a child, Driscoll says he wanted to be a member of the highway patrol. “I loved the hats,” he laughs, “and there was something about carrying a gun and wearing that hat that appealed to me.”
Driscoll’s parents own and operate a landscaping business in Howell County. “I also gave some thought to taking over my dad’s business some day, too, but being an astronaut always seemed like the ultimate career to me, and it still does.”
Driscoll, who considers himself an over-achiever and a perfectionist, says his engineering internships have proven to him that he is on the right track. “I will admit that I’ve changed majors and interned both in the office and the field,” he says, “but it gave me the opportunity to see for myself the differences in the two paths. Most people need to experience what they want to do before they can decide. Internships are really important for students. If I could recommend anything to younger students, it would be to get an internship as soon as possible.”
Driscoll also sees his theatre work at UMR impacting his future in a very positive way.
"Employers frequently complain about the lack of presentation skills possessed by engineering graduates,” he says. “Instructors try to place more emphasis on that area, but without student commitment, the trend won’t change. Being on stage has expanded my comfort bubble, and given me a sense of stage presence that will undoubtedly transfer nicely to the construction industry.”