Professor shares his passion for theater

Tom Ontiveros, associate professor of theater design, discusses his recent work creating sets in the theater industry Tuesday in the Quay Davis Executive Board Room. Ontiveros explained that it is important to have a service mindset, such as helping to create what others would enjoy and giving back. / photo by Kaylie Ennis
Tom Ontiveros, associate professor of theater design, discusses his recent work creating sets in the theater industry Tuesday in the Quay Davis Executive Board Room. Ontiveros explained that it is important to have a service mindset, such as helping to create what others would enjoy and giving back. / photo by Kaylie Ennis

Jasmine Soria
Staff Writer 

The Chair of the Theater Department Tom Ontiveros shared his story behind his success in the theater industry on Tuesday at the Quay Davis Executive Boardroom. He has worked on lighting designs for plays, musicals, dance performances, and operas. 

“My job is to be a caretaker for the stories I tell,” Ontiveros said. 

His parents moved to Whittier from East Los Angeles, believing the city to be safer because they were assimilationists, people who advocate for racial integration. Their desire to move away from their culture confused Ontiveros – he did not have the urge to move from a city with a colorful heritage to a city with little to none like they did. 

“My parents believed if we became invisible, we became okay,” Ontiveros said.

He realized later that there was more to life than just fitting in. 

“I liked how he told his back story, I can really relate to that,” Katelyn Graham, a sophomore psychology major, said. “I did a performance on campus last year, and he was part of the lighting design, too; seeing him in action is really fascinating.” 

Ontiveros attended UCSD and started as a biology major but became more interested in theater. He moved to San Francisco and worked at Intersection of the Arts, a non-profit organization that helps artists grow.  

During his time at Intersection of the Arts, Ontiveros had various interactions with addicts that would hang outside the building. He invited them into the organization and would make their stories into plays. 

“His idea of sharing his story of how he changed his major from one to another is inspiring, and teaching his students how to express themselves is really important,” Johanna Vargas, a freshman criminology major, said. 

Ontiveros has been involved in other projects, such as working on lighting designs for “The Exonerated,” a play about people on death row. He collaborated with Julia Butterfly Hill, an environmental activist, on a play and interviewed her on the phone while she was on a tree. He  worked on shows like “Pelota,” which used soccer as a way to explore larger issues, and “The Box,” which told the story of Sarah Shourd, an American who was imprisoned in Iran.

“I really liked how he shared his story, and you can see how inspiring it is of him digging into his culture and portraying his story in a creative way,” Genevieve Delgado, a sophomore psychology major, said.

Ontiveros’ approach to theater is based on his belief in selflessness, authenticity, and vulnerability. His approach focuses on creating empathy, building connections between people, and inviting them to participate in the process. He hopes that his students will also create and discover powerful stories. 

“My advice to students looking to find their place, my wife actually gave me this piece of advice, start where you want to be in five, 20, 30 years, then backtrack, and take a look at the steps you need to take to get there,” Ontiveros said. 

Jasmine Soria can be reached at jasmine.soria@laverne.edu. 

Jasmine Soria, a junior broadcast journalism major, is a staff writer for the Campus Times.

Kaylie Ennis is a senior photography major and a staff photographer for the Campus Times and La Verne Magazine. Originally from Washington state, she enjoys cars and nature photography.

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