Aaron Scully finds home in theatre at MU

Since his return to MU, Aaron Scully has made a name for himself with his award-winning original play, “Sleeping With Hitler.”
Graduate student Aaron Scully sits for a portrait Monday, Feb. 9, 2015 at the Rhynsburger Theater in Columbia, Mo. Scully’s original play “Sleeping With Hitler” premiered at the 12th annual Life and Literature Performance Series last fall.

Aaron Scully, a graduate student working toward a doctorate in theatre, has a rather pure goal.

“I want to make (theatre) my career, to do it for the rest of my life,” he said. “It’s been life-changing. It made me an all-around better person, being part of theatre.”

Last fall, Scully’s original play “Sleeping With Hitler” premiered at the 12th annual Life and Literature Performance series. Scully’s path, however, hasn’t always been so simple. Much like his own theatrical work, Scully’s life has been filled with plot twists.

Coming from Warrensburg, Missouri, Scully didn’t have the clearest idea of what to do with his life while he was an undergraduate at MU. After spending his first two years as an “undeclared” major, he had to make a decision.

“Managing a restaurant was like a dream to me when I was a kid, following my father’s footsteps,” he said.

After obtaining an undergraduate degree in hotel and restaurant management, Scully earned a bachelor’s degree in Broadcasting and Film from the University of Central Missouri.

Scully moved around and took a few different jobs afterward, including working on the first two Spider-Man movies in Los Angeles for three years. Eventually, he fulfilled his childhood aspiration of running his parents’ restaurant as the general manager for six years.

His life took a sharp turn when he decided to go back to school for a master’s in business administration. On a whim, he auditioned for a play and took a directing class.

“I looked at my professor in the class and thought, I want to do what he does,” Scully said. “So I literally walked up to him after class, and asked him, ‘How can I do what you do?’”

Following the professor’s advice, Scully decided to pursue a master’s degree in arts and theatre.

“The first memory I have of the theater was when I saw my older brother Rob playing Daddy Warbucks in a production of ‘Annie’ at Warrensburg High School,” Scully said. “I knew that theatre was something I wanted to do. The pull towards education sent me in the right direction.”

After earning two master’s degrees at UCM, one in business administration and one in arts and theatre, Scully returned to MU last semester to start working toward a Ph.D. in Theatre.

Since his return to the university, Scully has made a name for himself with his award-winning original play, “Sleeping With Hitler.”

Originally inspired by a short story written by his cousin, Scully worked on the play for two years before it was finally complete. The play tells the story of three teenagers whose lives are closely tied together in a chain of events as they try to catch a catfish named Hitler.

After submitting the play to the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival in November 2013, Scully said he was surprised when he was told his work had been favored by the judges. He was invited to bring the performance of “Sleeping With Hitler” to the festival in Minneapolis, Minnesota in January.

After gaining the full support from MU’s Department of Theatre, Scully launched a campaign of faculty and students in preparation for the grand tour up north.

Freshman Jamie Berry was one of the major cast members in the show.

“The experience was crazy,” Berry said. “The week leading up to it was so busy, I was rehearsing all day, going home, eating then getting up to do it again. But at the end, I was really glad.”

The preparation process included countless cycles of setbacks, rewrites and improvements.

Theatre professor Jon Drtina was the show’s director.

“As the director, I felt like we collaborated really well on shaping his script and making it our production,” Drtina said. “It was (an) absolute joy to work with him. I was honored to be a part of the process.”

At the theatre festival, tickets for four of the five “Sleeping With Hitler” performances sold out.

“There’s nothing more enjoyable or rewarding than seeing your work being done,” Scully said.

Winning awards such as the Stage Directors and Choreographers Society Award for Best Student Directing Scene, Scully said without those who supported him, he would never have seen so much success.

“Without Dr. Carver, director Jon Drtina, stage manager Rebecca Holley, the amazing cast, the support of the department and the university, this wouldn’t have happened,” Scully said. “You can’t mount a show without the collaborative work from others.”

Described as “a terrific collaborator” by Drtina and a “role model” by Berry, Scully received great response from his peers and students for his personality and professionalism at work.

Sophomore Jacob Estes was also a major player in “Sleeping With Hitler.”

“Aaron is sort of, you know, what you want to be,” Estes said. “He’s a fantastic guy, always so helpful, smart and insightful. When you work with someone like him, it’s a memorable experience.”

Scully’s devotion to theatre arts derived from his passion and love for the craft, especially in the sense of engaging with the audience.

“The feeling I get from being transported into the story, on stage or in film, is a feeling you don’t get to experience in other things,” Scully said. “It can really change you; it has a transformative power to it. There is an essence within you can’t find in other things.”

Scully often asked himself, “What can imagination do?” and he said he found his answer in theatre.

“Someone sits down and enjoys the show for two hours and walks out of the theater changed in some way, becoming a better person, a more enlightened person,” Scully said.

Unlike the old days when he was lost at the crossroad of life, as he settles down at MU, Scully can now see the future.

“I think I have found my place here,” he said. “Mizzou is home.”

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