November 17, 2020
Chris had never heard of VCU’s Theatre program until his high school drama teacher Julie Clark recommended it. “I interviewed with Ron Keller (former scenic design faculty) and fell in love with it. She was absolutely right, and it was the faculty that made all the difference.”
In case you’re wondering (since Ron taught set design), Chris actually started in design, but he ended up becoming one of the first majors in the newly formed Stage Management track. Chris explains, “There was a rule that freshmen weren’t supposed to work on mainstage shows, and I got an invitation from director Joy Pace to be assistant stage manager for Playing for Time.”
As soon as he graduated, Chris started work as a clerk at Total Wine & More. Within a year he was promoted to management, where he started opening up new markets and creating teams. “Applying the organizational structures I learned at VCU to the business world.” He started teaching wine classes for the company and they asked if he’d teach beer classes. “They gave me $100 to buy beer books. It’s like learning a new language, but I developed a passion for beer.”
He waited for his girlfriend to graduate (Sarah Panchision, BFA ’03, Costume Design), and they got married. After a move to Charleston, SC, they ended up in Tampa where his career with spirits evolved. There, he accepted an opportunity for nationally-recognized distributor JJ Taylor with a focus on craft beer. That got him on the board of the Tampa Bay Beer Week, where he’s now Executive Director. He recently published a 104-page book to promote the Tampa Bay Ale Trail, a guide to 80 breweries.
Sarah works part-time as a preschool teacher, but keeps her hand in design, most recently constructing the Halloween costumes for their three kids (Dana 11, Micah 9, Austin 4).
Chris reflects, “Looking back, going into real world, I applied every aspect in what I learned at VCU. Every little thing from color concepts to art theory went into this book. It wasn’t so much the information they taught us, but how to think about the process and come up with answers on our own.”
Compiled by Liz Hopper (Emeritus Faculty) and Jerry Williams (BFA ’71) for the November 2020 Theatre Alumni Newsletter