Theatre: It’s more than just acting

James Kuhl embraced a life-long passion for theatre while a student at Alma College. Today, he directs a successful theatre company.

When James Kuhl ’01 attended Chesaning High School, he knew exactly what he wanted to be involved in for the rest of his life.

The theatre.

An Alma College student teacher found herself assisting with the Chesaning High School production of The Wizard of Oz, which cast Kuhl as the Scarecrow. To support the student teacher, two Alma professors, one in education and the other in sociology, came to one of the performances. After the show, both approached Kuhl and asked him if he had ever thought about Alma College, sharing a bit about its theatre program.

“My first interaction with people involved with Alma was so personal,” says Kuhl. “It led to my interest of visiting the school, where I was immediately attracted to the theatre program — ultimately committing to becoming a Scot.”

<em>James Kuhl, in The Tipping Point Theatre production of 'True West.' (Photo by Steve Fecht)</em>James Kuhl, in The Tipping Point Theatre production of 'True West.' (Photo by Steve Fecht)Although Kuhl’s passion was acting, he decided he would make a practical move and study business administration with a minor in theatre. However, it only took one day of class with Joe Jezewski, the now-retired theatre director at Alma College, to alter his thinking on theatre all together.

“I quickly realized that the depth and impact of theatre was so much more than I had ever dreamed of,” says Kuhl. “I used to do it just because it was fulfilling, but when Joe started talking about the art and craft of acting, it opened my eyes to the complex beauty of it all. He was showing me there was a profound opportunity to express myself, and that was life changing. And that was also only the first day.”

Kuhl changed his major to theatre after his second year. Upon graduation, he took a leap into the real world where he took part in a season-long apprenticeship at the Purple Rose Theatre Company, started by Emmy Award-winning actor Jeff Daniels.

In 2004, Kuhl returned to Alma College when he accepted an internship within the theatre department, working alongside Jezewski in teaching and directing plays in the Remick Heritage Center’s Strosacker Theatre.

“Joe has been one of the most influential people in my life, so to be able to return and learn even more from a mentor was a special opportunity,” says Kuhl. “I continued being a student but now I was sitting next to him, discovering even more about theatre and myself as we talked about performance decisions and artistic choices.”

<em>James Kuhl, in The Tipping Point Theatre production of 'The Rainmaker.'</em>James Kuhl, in The Tipping Point Theatre production of 'The Rainmaker.'For the past eight years, Kuhl has served as the producing artistic director of Tipping Point Theatre, located in downtown Northville, Mich. Described by local reviewers as “warm and welcoming” with “intimate staging and incredible actors,” Tipping Point is the only professional theatre in the western Wayne County area.

His work combines the responsibility of an executive director and artistic director. He makes business and financial decisions, oversees day-to-day operations and leads the development, cultivation and implementation of the artistic output of the theatre.

Kuhl may have dropped the business administration major at Alma College, but much of what he learned still applies to his role at Tipping Point Theatre. For him, that’s just the beauty of a liberal arts education.

“A large deal of what I do at Tipping Point Theatre has to do with running a business,” says Kuhl. “The education that the liberal arts provide is imperative to where I am today.

“A huge benefit to the liberal arts is the ability to come at things with curiosity and a tenacity to solve problems and overcome challenges,” he says. “I may not know everything, but Alma taught me to have the interest to jump into something new and learn it.”

Story published on August 23, 2017