Once acting is in someone’s blood, it stays there. Gary Ambler came to the School of Architecture in 1987 after realizing he needed to support his acting career with a steady job. Some 17 years later, he is the admissions and records officer for the graduate program and has managed to balance the responsibilities of his position with his continued acting adventures. He has performed in summer theater around the Midwest, starred in a commercial for Health Alliance, and several years ago started a short-lived theater company in Chicago. Through it all, he has remained dedicated to his job, which, like the theater world, allows him to meet interesting people.
Tell me about your job.
I’m the admissions and records officer for the graduate program in architecture. I work with about 400 or 500 applications a year. I coordinate evaluations for them and do all the processing for admissions. My office also maintains graduate student records and tracks student progress in the various architecture programs.
What are some of your responsibilities?
Well, it changes each semester. Right now we’re in the middle of admissions. Earlier in the semester we were pulling files together and doing credential evaluations on all the applicants and processing that information to get it out to the evaluators. We get those ratings back and start making decisions with all the correspondence that comes back through our office. At the same time, we were working on the spring records, or May degrees, which are big, with all the graduates we have in May. We also process all the graduate assistantships through my office.
What is the most challenging part of your job?
The hardest part right now has been training in the new Banner systems. It’s affected so many pieces of what we do here. It’s affected admissions, payroll, the timetable and registration. We just started using it in the fall, but it’s been a yearlong project getting everyone trained.
What is your favorite part of your job?
The students. The graduate students are a really interesting group of people, and that’s been the most rewarding part, just helping them and getting to know them.
How long have you been an actor?
I’ve been an actor for over 30 years. I work almost exclusively, when I’m here, at the Station Theater in Urbana. It’s a very intimate little black box theater, and we do mostly contemporary plays or plays that would not have been seen here otherwise.
What draws you to acting?
I do it because I’ve done it for so long and it’s what I do. Really, I came here to work at the Station Theater and started working at the university to help support me and my acting habits. But since then, in the last several years, I’ve been getting out more and doing some summer theater in Wisconsin and Chicago. And I did work for the Steppenwolf Theater Company last year.
What has been your favorite role and why was it your favorite?
We usually say the current one, which is Angus in “The Drawer Boy,” which plays at the Station (Theater) through this Saturday. (A shameless plug, sorry.) There are a few favorites: Kerr in “Chesapeake,” Bottom in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” Vanya in “Uncle Vanya,” Coleman Connor in “The Lonesome West,” George in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” There are many, but probably the most special is Macbeth. Performed at the Station (Theater), directed by Karma Ibsen, in the late-1980s/early ’90s. It was my favorite because it was my first real experience performing Shakespeare’s poetry, which was a revelation.
Why do you feel the Station Theater is so special?
It’s remained true to itself, as a training ground for young actors, for actors bridging from academic theater to professional theater, and as a home and performance venue for a resident company of actors, directors, designers and technicians. And it’s remained true to its artistic mission: to present new and challenging pieces of theater in an intimate setting.
How did you get started in acting? Were you ever trained as an actor?
I started writing and performing in high school. I studied theater at Eastern Illinois University.
What is your biggest challenge as an actor?
Acting always balances abandon and restraint. The challenge is to keep balanced, not fall off on either side. To channel the playwright’s vision, to focus, keep it simple, and communicate.