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TJC drama club, ‘Las Mascaras,’ celebrates 90th anniversary

In addition to Tyler Junior College’s 90th anniversary, this also marks the 90th year of the college’s oldest active student organization – the speech and drama club, Las Mascaras.

Established on the first day of TJC’s existence, Sept. 17, 1926, Las Mascaras was created to support the speech and drama department’s activities and its students.

The group will hold a 90th-anniversary reunion and celebration Saturday, Feb. 25, during the run of the TJC spring musical, “Mary Poppins.”

Schedule of events:
• Noon – Luncheon in the TJC Apache Rooms
• 2 p.m. – Pre-show meet-and-greet in Jean Browne Theatre
• 7:30 p.m. – “Mary Poppins” performance in Wise Auditorium

For more information on the reunion, contact Dr. David W. Crawford at dcra@tjc.edu or by calling 903-510-2678.

Las Mascaras, which translates as “The Maskers,” was given its exotic name by then-TJC vice president and charter member Dr. Edwin Potter.

Since it began, “Las Mas,” as it has since been nicknamed, and the TJC theater department have taken pride in bringing top-notch live entertainment to East Texas audiences.

As a TJC theater alumnus and professor, Dr. David Crawford has spent more than 40 years of his life in the TJC theater department; and for him, Las Mascaras is truly a family affair.

“My dad Ira Melvin Crawford was a Las Mas member back in the 1930s, I’m a member, my wife Toni is a member, and so is my sister, Diane,” he said. “My three sons, Clint, Cody and Caden, are also members and TJC alumni.”

Crawford said the group has about 75 members on its current roster, with nearly 850 alumni scattered across the nation.

A few Las Mascaras alumni who have gone on to notable success include:

• Donna Bullock, actress, appeared in the motion picture blockbuster, “Air Force One,” held the leading role of Mother in the Broadway musical, “Ragtime,” and appeared in TV series including “Frasier,” “Monk,” “The Division,” “Six Feet Under,” “Against the Grain” and “Dallas”

• Shea Whigham, actor, appeared in the Oscar-nominated film “Silver Linings Playbook” and TV’s “Boardwalk Empire”

• Carmin Marie Biggs, TV news producer, WABC-TV in New York City, the No. 1 news station in the nation

Biggs, who was a journalism major, credits TJC and Las Mascaras not just for preparing her academically but also for teaching her the real-life skills that put her on a path for success as a TV news producer.

“I was involved in speech and debate tournaments,” she said, “and TJC was one of the few community colleges that competed against four-year schools. We weren’t just competitive with those universities, we were successful and I actually earned first place at the state competition.

“Also, when you’re traveling a lot for competitions, you learn about leadership skills, responsibility and time management, all of which are important in my job every day. TJC was a great place for me to get my start in life.”

Crawford credits the success and longevity of Las Mascaras to its simple tenets that have remained constant through the decades.

“The primary directive has always been to support dramatic and speech activity at TJC; it’s that basic and that general,” Crawford said. “Also, we are, above all else, a family. Anyone who has come before you is your big brother or sister, and anyone who comes after you is your little brother or sister.

“Anyone who comes before or after you is your family, and you always take care of your family.”

Current chapter president and “Mary Poppins” leading lady Victoria Dickson happily attests to the Las Mascaras family credo.

“We don’t all have plans to go into theater after TJC,” said Dickson, a Tyler sophomore, “but in Las Mascaras, that doesn’t matter. I’m a theater and art major, but I plan to study psychology and neuroscience with plans to work with children with Down syndrome.

“Theater is our common bond; but we come from all areas of campus ranging from the arts and sciences to student government and Phi Theta Kappa (honor society).

She said the variety of interests within the group serves as a great vehicle for connecting with the more than 50 other organizations at TJC.

“Las Mas has also connected me with incredibly caring faculty who have poured their knowledge into me.

“There’s a huge level of trust among all of us and a constant source of support. We really are a family.”

For more on TJC arts events, go to www.tjc.edu/PerformingArts.

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