Theatre professor Lyam Gabel poses in his office on Oct. 17, 2023, in the Zoellner Arts Center. Gabel is currently teaching theatre classes and directing the upcoming department of theatre's musical, opening Nov. 10. (Kwynsky MIguel/B&W Staff)

Theatre professor uses past to drive future projects


Lyam Gabel describes themselves as a maker. They have adapted, written, directed and performed in plays since their early high school years growing up in Maryland, which built a love for teaching.

Now, as a theatre professor at Lehigh, he aids future change-makers who are interested in exploring theatre as a profession.

“Students are the people who are going to be the next ones to change everything and make things happen,” Gabel said.

He received his bachelor of fine arts degree in acting and bachelor of arts degree in political science from Virginia Commonwealth University. Gabel later attended graduate school at Carnegie Mellon University, where he earned his master of fine arts degree in directing.

Since completing graduate school, Gabel said they have written and directed a variety of works. They said one of the plays they wrote is called “the dance floor, the hospital room and the kitchen table,” which included historical audios from interviews he completed with HIV survivors and those who were care workers during the 1980s and ‘90s.

“The play is an exploration of how next generation and younger queer folks can reckon with that history, loss and how we deal with the ambiguous grief that comes from losing a generation of our elders,” Gabel said.

He said they are currently directing the second show of the year for Lehigh’s theatre department, a science-fiction folk musical called “Rags Parkland Sings the Songs of the Future,” which opens Nov. 10. The department of theatre is the first group to ever produce this musical outside of its off-Broadway run in 2018.

Gabel said it has been exciting to interact with students who are well rounded as well as faculty members who are high level and well renowned.

They said the faculty are hoping to collaborate at Lehigh.

Theatre department chair Kashi Johnson was involved in hiring and mentoring Gabel.

“He was an exemplary candidate, not just in terms of qualifications, but also in terms of his vibration, who he was as a person,” Johnson said. “(They) felt like, not to sound cliche, definitely the right fit for our department.”

Johnson said Gabel is highly capable and did not need much of her help, so she mostly mentors them through encouragement.

She said they bring energy and excitement into the department by being active in the community.

“Now that he’s a part of the tenure-track faculty in our department, we get to still benefit from all the awesome things that he is creating and discovering the connections and networks that he’s making and awards he’s receiving,” Johnson said.

Juliana Kilgore, ‘24, a theatre and an earth and environmental science double major, has been involved in theatre most of her life. When she came to Lehigh, she believed she would pursue theatre as an extracurricular activity, however, she found it fairly easy to double major, so she decided to pursue both.

Kilgore is currently the associate director for the upcoming, working alongside Gabel.

She said she has more responsibilities as an associate, allowing her to have the ability to lead the room instead of needing to be an assistant helping the director.

During this time, Gabel has served as a mentor to Kilgore, and she said his experience in multifaceted roles in the theatre department has given her opportunities to explore different aspects of theatre.

“(Gabel) has a lot of outside experience,” Kilgore said. “Before becoming a professor, before getting their MFA, they were doing things like creating new projects, working on different innovative things.”

She said this has helped her transition out of college and into the “real-world theatre scene.”

Next semester, Gabel said they are going on a sabbatical to work on four projects. These include an off-Broadway show called “House of Telescopes;” “Becoming a Man,” associated with Harvard; “Amm(i)gone” with a theater in Washington D.C.; as well as a play they were commissioned to create through the Drama League about reproductive health for transmasculine people.

Gabel said it’s exciting that anyone can audition for the shows at Lehigh and can work with a wide range of students who are offering different things.

He also said one of the cool things that they have gotten to do with Lehigh is work with Scott Burden at the Pride Center to create an advocacy group, the Transgender and Nonbinary Advocacy Committee, for students, faculty, staff and community members. Gabel, who is transgender, said the Pride Center is one of the things that has made them feel welcomed meeting other trans members in the Lehigh community.

“This department is at the cutting edge of what theatre is doing, that we’re really looking to be training people for the field that’s happening now,” Gabel said. “Really helping students articulate what it is that they want to say in the world and how to put that out there has been an exciting part of being here.”

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