Campus and Community

Cool Hand Luke

Photo: Thomas B. Shea

Luke Fedell’s story reads like an opening scene of a play.

Young man grows up in the small town of Springfield, Ohio….Moves to the big city with his family as a teenager in high school.

Little did he know that he and his stepfather’s love of classic 80s action movies—starring the likes of Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Jean Claude Van Damme—would have an influence on his eventual career path.

“Essentially, I was inspired by the cast of the ‘The Expendables,’” Fedell said laughing. “I grew up watching them and would ‘act out’ the scenes. It was a very important part of my life because that was how I spent a lot of my time and let loose.”

Let’s set the stage even further.

A car accident—he was literally hit by a car—in high school took away a sports career, but introduced him to what began as a hobby and eventually led him to a life in theater.

This “hobby” continued during his undergraduate pursuit as a biology major when he arrived at the University of Houston-Downtown (UHD) in 2002. Fedell studied under former O’Kane Theater Director, Tom Lyttle, whose neighbor happened to be Brian Brynes—one of the top fight choreographers in the country and who at that time taught at the University of Houston. A simple introduction by Lyttle to Brynes further ignited Fedell’s aspirations into the world of theatre.

“Through fight choreography and training with Brian Byrnes as well as performances around Houston as a stunt man, I was able to find my niche in the theatre and combine it with my childhood love of action movies and my athletic training in sports,” Fedell said.

After earning a Bachelor of Arts degree in philosophy with a concentration in religion from UHD, Fedell decided to continue his theater career as a professional which led him to earning an MFA from Texas Tech University in 2010 with a focus in performance and pedagogy.

He also is a Certified Advanced Actor Combatant with the Society of American Fight Directors and has served as a local fight director throughout Greater Houston, working with many performance companies in the city including the Houston Grand Opera, the Alley Theatre, Catastrophic Theatre, Stages Repertory Theatre, the Classical Theatre Company, and Mildred’s Umbrella.

Fedell eventually returned to his alma mater as a lecturer, where he teaches Introduction to Theater; Acting I; and Freshman Seminar-Arts.

What’s your favorite aspect/role in theater—actor, director or teacher?

“I like teaching the most because it possesses the most room for creativity and offers constant change,” he said. “Each semester, I get a new group of students that I have to learn from them as they learn from me…there’s an improvisation to it all…like learning from your audiences…which are my students.

“I like to do immersive theater…there’s no wall between the production and the audience….there’s not another element in lieu of the audience watching through a fourth wall…instead they are more participatory. As with teaching, you are always participating….feeding off the energies in the classroom.”

By the way, directing is his second favorite, followed by acting.

“I like staying behind the scenes,” Fedell added. “That’s why I do a lot of opera performances…I get to play characters through movement.”

Fedell performed in the New York premier of Mieczyslaw Weinberg’s “The Passenger at the Park Avenue Armory” in 2014. And, he’s acted in over a dozen productions with the Houston Grand Opera— including “A Little Night Music;” Wagner’s “Ring Cycle;” “Otello;” “Il Trovatore;” and the world premiere of “Prince of Players.”

As an educator, what do you want to instill in your students?

“I want to bring more movement-oriented training to my actors by teaching them to become more aware their physical selves and the space that they occupy on stage and in performance. Working from a more ‘outside, in and then out again’ focus. Using physical gestures to portray emotions as opposed to using emotional recall.”

So far at UHD, Fedell has directed two Lunchtime Theatre performances —“The Chairs” and “Endgame.”

And now, he makes his third directorship with James Mc Clure’s “Lone Star” on the O’Kane Theatre stage April 12 – 14 and 18 – 21.

This one-act play takes place in the backyard of a small town bar somewhere in West Texas featuring three blue collar men having a conversation about life and everything in between.

Fedell’s instructions to the theater’s set designer for Lone Star: “This is somewhere in Maynard, Texas and some higher power reached in and grabbed a piece of this bar…and whatever he got in his hand, ended up on stage.”

His advice to the audience when experiencing Lone Star?

“Don’t try to overthink it, there’s not a hidden meaning within the play itself,” Fedell said. “But what we’re trying to do is to put you (the audience) into that slice of life…total immersive theater.”