For the month of December I thought it would be cool to acknowledge a star who is making his own course to one day being in the bright lights of Broadway in a lead role! The month of December’s Alumni watch is Jacob Rivera Sanchez who graduated back in 2011. While at Tech he kept things up academically as he graduated Summa Cum Laude with a 4.125 GPA and was in the top 12 in his class. Among some of his accolades while at Tech: member of the Nation Honor Society, Drama Club, Yearbook staff, member of the newspaper staff co-editor, was voted Mr. Trimble Tech, Voted Most Likely to Succeed, Voted Most Involved, and was the Recipient of Who’s Who for Theatre. Succeed he has and will continue to. I sat down with Jacob and Cheryl Penland, theatre arts teacher at Trimble Tech, and talked about things back in the day and where he sees himself in the future.
Why did you choose the Theatre Arts Program?
I remember visiting Cheryl Penland’s theatre class as an 8th grader; it was the middle of a lunchtime drama club meeting and I was enamored at the camaraderie and enthusiasm of the students. I walked up to Penland and introduced myself and we ended up talking for nearly a half hour about all things theatre. I knew from that moment, that’s where I wanted to be. The minute I walked through the door, she saw something in me and was welcoming and caring.
Is this the program you had wanted to get into when applying to Trimble Tech?
I absolutely wanted to be involved in the theatre department in any possible way. Theatre was not offered as a major at the time, but I was also interested in graphic design. Because the specific graphic design classes for majors conflicted with theatre, I found opportunities in the Business Image Management & Multimedia classes that allowed me to do both and have a more flexible schedule; it was the best of both worlds.
Was there ever a moment when you thought you choose the wrong program?
It was never so much a battle of whether I chose the right program or not, but more that I was not going to receive any program certifications that the graphic design majors would have. Luckily, I work in a job that now utilizes both the theatrical and graphic design worlds which is what I had hoped for to begin with.
What was the moment when it occurred to you that this was what you wanted to do with the rest of your life?
I was always interested in theatre, musical theatre specifically, from an early age. It wasn’t until I was looking into high schools that I realized it was something I could actually do.
What was/were your favorite memories in the theatre arts program?
My favorite memories will always be our time doing the UIL One Act Play, all of the UIL rules aside, we bonded and strengthened ourselves as an ensemble. We were truly grateful for those opportunities, whether we advanced to the next level of competition or not. For us, it was not about putting on the best show or “beating” the competition. Our first priority was, and has always been, to tell the story and impact the audience. That is what theatre should be about, whether it’s a 40-minute play being adjudicated or a two-hour musical dancing and singing our butts off.
How was it having Cheryl Penland encouraging/pushing you through your high school career?
She cares so much about her students, especially in their overall academics, that certainly helped during my time at Tech. She fueled my drive to graduate with top honors and be a shining example of what theatre majors are capable of in the classroom. I graduated in the Top 12 of my class with a 4.0+ GPA; it is what I am most proud of.
What advice would you give any current students who might have a tough path and want to reach for their dreams?
RETENTION. DRIVE. RESPECT.
If it’s theatre-related, as Penland has always said: “do it for the art in yourself, not for yourself in the art.”
If you could tell anything to Cheryl Penland and your other teachers back at Tech, what would that be?
I see a lot of them often, and I know they are aware of how grateful I am to each and every one of them.
At this point I wanted to get Cheryl Penland’s view on things so we asked her some questions.
You’ve had a lot of student actors come through your doors, did you know Jacob would become the young professional that he has from the start?
Absolutely! Jacob had a passion for Theatre and a dream of being a part of it from the moment he walked through our doors. He was like a sponge, absorbing every single bit of information about all aspects of Theatre. He never had an ego or felt he was above any task related to creating a show. He was a teacher and a director’s dream.
What did Jacob have that you wish more students now days don’t have?
Jacob has always had a very strong work ethic. He never does the minimum it takes “just to get by.” He puts his whole heart, talent, and energy into every single job he does.
Is there a memory back from his years at Tech, funny serious or whatever, that you would like to share?
He will kill me for telling this story, but it is one of my favorite memories, even though I wanted to kill him at the time. We had a very important performance scheduled in the evening. In the middle of the day, Jacob started getting these horrible itchy bumps all over his body. They were bad. So, I sent him to the nurse. She said she was sure they were CHICKEN POX, which are highly contagious and demanded that he leave campus immediately and not get near anyone on his way out of the building. But did Jacob leave her office and go straight outside and go home? NOOOOO! He came running into my classroom with his arms flailing and screaming, “I can’t go home, WE HAVE A SHOOOOOOOW TONIGHT!” I told him that it was okay, we would put an understudy in his place, but he had to GET OUT OF MY CLASSROOM AND THE BUILDING!” He finally stood out on the front steps crying and yelling hysterically until his mom came and got him. Now THAT is dedication. It was also the first absence he had ever had and threatened to ruin his perfect attendance record. Oh, the drama! LOL.
Having someone like Jacob come out of your program goes to show how great you are, how proud of him are you? What would you tell him today of the man/actor he had become?
I take every opportunity to remind Jacob of how proud I am of him. He is still very special to me and we have remained friends all these years, since he graduated from Tech. Not only is he a remarkable Theatre artist, he is a great man of character and compassion. I am proud to call him my friend.
Anything else you would like to share?
Jacob’s star is just beginning to rise. You will see great things coming from him in the future!
With that we turned back to Jacob asking where are you now? What are you up to? What are your future goals?
I work at Texas Wesleyan University, my alma mater, as the business manager of the theatre department. One of my primary functions is recruiting high school students and encouraging them to consider Wesleyan as their choice of school to study theatre. I have worked at several theatres in the DFW area and hope to continue doing so. I would, one day, love to work in a market like New York, Los Angeles, or Chicago, or even as part of a touring production; onstage or backstage.
Whether in high school or after graduation, what is one of your most memorable events that you can’t believe that just happened?
I had hoped, but never considered, that the faculty would recognize my best friend, Dalana Woods, and I as both Mr. & Ms. Tech and Most Likely to Succeed. We were also in the top of our class and we worked our butts off to be strong academically, but also we loved being involved and staying busy and we both managed to do that successfully through our high school careers.
What was your favorite role that you have played in high school/afterwards?
Playing “Chino” in West Side Story at Casa Manana in 2017 was a culmination of several dreams being realized at once.
What was your favorite theatre production you have been a part of/seen?
This is a hard question! My favorite experiences have been seeing Jake Gyllenhaal in the Broadway production of Sunday in the Park with George (with the composer, Stephen Sondheim sitting a row away from me), seeing the musical Hadestown at New York Theatre Workshop, and seeing Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (twice!) because it really goes to show how much magic you can create being a part of theatre.
Where do you see yourself in ten years from now?
As long as I am working in the theatre in any capacity, I will be content. Fortunately, I trained as a well-rounded theatre artist where I can utilize several different facets and skills towards production work; in the director’s chair, onstage and backstage, or in the administrative, business, or producing-side.
I want to take this time to thank both Jacob and Cheryl Penland in sharing this information. We are all so very proud of Jacob and wish him the best in hopefully finding his name in lights in the future and hold a Tony with his name on it. You can find out more information about Jacob by visiting his website:
As always, I am always on the lookout for future honorees for Alumni of the Month. They do not have to be athletes, simply have to be Trimble Tech Graduates who are or have done great things. Email me at Jason.email@example.com with the subject line Alumni Watch nominee and make sure there is a way to get in touch with them. They will be considered for future posts.