“Our culture of caring didn’t just pop up one day with a slogan,” says Newburg, a 20-year veteran of the Theatre Arts program he now oversees at AC. “This College has always been a place where everybody’s open and more than willing to help. I remember it from the very moment I came into the fold as a student.
“Amarillo College is unique in its construct.”
Newburg’s insights are drawn from the scope of his academic experience. After completing his associate degree in theatre arts in at AC (1990), he earned a bachelor’s degree from Texas Wesleyan University in Fort Worth, then completed a master of fine arts degree in theatrical design at Tulane University.
After 10 years teaching mostly production design, largely at Tarrant County College and the University of Texas at Arlington, the Amarillo High School product returned to his Texas Panhandle roots. He joined the AC faculty in 2000 and has since taught all aspects of theatrical production.
“It’s not that the larger institutions aren’t fine at what they do,” Newburg said. “But they sometimes seem like a treadmill where one size fits all. There’s such a truly caring system in place here at AC, and frankly, if we’re really going to have the sort of family culture that we espouse, we can’t treat everybody unilaterally.”
That’s why Newburg is inclined to sit down with individual students who come into his purview – same as the late English professor Dwight Huber did with him – to find out how the College can serve them best.
“I clearly remember Dwight Huber sitting me down in his office for 30 minutes just to talk and get acquainted before we ever actually began the registration process,” Newburg said. “Now I draw students into my office for conversations like that, to ask them want it is they want to do with their lives.
“I don’t want to be a used car salesman selling a program. I want to know if there really is something I can do for you – can we help you realize your dream – by having the kind of honest conversations families have.”
Theatre presents students with far more opportunities than the finite number of parts in a play – in addition to acting there’s lighting and set design, costume creation, directing and makeup. Moreover, all these pursuits are open to AC students of every walk, not just to those majoring in theatre arts.
“We love new talent and people who are excited about theatre,” Newburg said. “There are so many facets to theatre besides performing on stage. And confidence and the ability to communicate effectively, sometimes emotionally, can be part and parcel to many careers outside theater. We absolutely try to open ourselves up to anyone and everyone who comes in our door.”
Those who do enter Newburg’s sphere of influence are likely to be subjected to his method of “baptism by fire.”
“I’m never afraid to throw students into the fire, so to speak, not cruelly or oppressively, but in a supportive way,” he said. “I seldom worry that a student will be unable to take a project and do something with it. Whether they succeed or fail is irrelevant – I’m that kind of teacher – because the truly exciting teaching moments come when they learn from mistakes.
“My own (student) experience here was one of excitement and wonder of academia, of being able to learn things that I would never have imagined I would be able to learn, and right here in my own backyard. Perpetual learning has kept me energized and youthful, and I want that for my students – each one of them.”
During those rare times when Newburg is not immersed in a College production, he occasionally performs freelance design work, often for weddings posh and events notable. He’s also became something of a gym rat in recent years and tries to work out five days a week.
Another of his passions is advocacy for Haven Health, a non-profit clinic in Amarillo that provides access to medical care and reproductive health services regardless of a person’s ability to pay. Newburg served three consecutive two-year terms on the facility’s board of directors before he was required to cycle off, and he remains open to the possibility of rejoining the board as eligibility allows.
“It’s something that’s near and dear to my heart because of having had so many young women as students and seeing the struggles they go through, not only to get reproductive care, but just general medical care,” Newburg said. “It serves the population here that cannot otherwise afford insurance.”
Newburg’s theatre background is extensive. He’s directed innumerable shows. He’s done freelance production designs for Fort Worth Theatre, Granbury Opera House, Dallas Theatre Center, and more; he has worked as a scenic artist with the New Orleans Opera Association and consulted for the Lone Star Ballet; and he’s performed on stage at most of his academic stops, frequently locally, like with Amarillo Little Theatre and Merely Players.
He has garnered innumerable accolades for teaching excellence, particularly from the Kennedy Center American Theater Association, and in 2004 he was named the Texas Educational Theatre Association’s Educator of the Year for Community Colleges.
Yet he is still not immune to the anxieties that commonly afflict cast and crew as the curtain goes up.
“It doesn’t really matter whether it’s design, directing or acting – I’m still always nervous,” Newburg said. “I have more control now and can hide my jitters quite well, but it’s still there. But if I didn’t have jitters then I don’t think I could believe I still have excitement for it any more.
“If you’re not the least bit nervous the moment people see the set you designed, the costumes you designed, the show you directed, or your performance if you happen to be in front of them, then your passion for what you are doing may be on the way out,” he said. “For me, I still have it. It’s still scary, but it’s also what continues to propel me forward, to fight for our program, to launch that next project.
“I’m good with that.”