Friends for nearly 50 years, a group of former and current Troy University faculty members have created the Jeff Taylor Endowed Scholarship for students interested in the technical side of theatre in memory of the longtime lighting and sound technician.
Since the summer of 2021, Taylor, Doc Kirby, a lecturer in the Hall School of Journalism and Communication and a familiar WTBF Radio personality, and retired faculty Tom Smiley, theatre lecturer and scenic designer, and Dr. Phil Kelley, Director of Musical Theater and Opera Workshop, could be found at their usual table at the Half Shell at 11 a.m. every Tuesday.
Newcomers were always welcome—and would join from time to time—but the core four remained. Kirby said they sometimes called themselves the FOGIES, which stood for “Old Guys Interested in Eating Stuff.”
After Taylor passed in June 2022, his usual order of diet coke remained in front of his seat at the table.
Taylor was hired at then-named Troy State University in the early 1970s while he was still a student. His first job was with the physical plant setting every clock on campus each morning, but he soon worked his way into becoming the technical director of the auditorium at Smith Hall before it became Claudia Crosby Theatre.
“With no formal training in electrical wiring, theater design or sound design, Jeff patiently taught himself to become an expert in theatrical sound and lighting design,” Kirby said.
Over his 27 years at TROY, Taylor was Kelley’s lighting and sound guy on every production. He also completely rewired the sound and lighting booth at the Smith Hall auditorium; Kelley called it “job security.”
“If you went to the old lighting booth and you saw a button that said ‘red lights,’ it would turn on the green lights. If you saw a button that said ‘blue lights,’ it would turn on the red lights,” he said. “Nobody knew what was what but Jeff, so there wouldn’t be any way of someone coming in and taking over. It was so Jeff.”
Taylor was a huge fan of movies and ran movie nights at the Adams Center and in Smith Hall. Also a huge fan of Star Wars, Smiley said he wanted to make the experience special for the moviegoers once they received the film to show.
“He arranged to have extra speakers put behind the screen and in the back of the auditorium. He had all sorts of things rigged up in the sound booth, and I sat at the mixer for two screenings of the movie,” he said. “I knew what was going to happen, so when they started to shoot the blasters, I would shift the mixer so it would zip across the room. He created surround sound, basically.
“When his wife, Claire, came down after seeing the first version, she said people were ducking. I still remember her quote. But that’s the kind of thing Jeff wanted to do and what he was good at.”
In 1979, the Taylors became charter members of a circle of friends who started a community theater group named the Trojan Little Theater. Aside from the productions, the biggest part of the Theater’s legacy was totally restoring the auditorium from the old Troy High School, which had been abandoned for over a decade. The group hosted two shows every year until 1990 when updated building codes rendered it unusable.
“Had Jeff done anything like that before? Parts of it, rewiring Smith Hall, but most of it he figured out as we went,” Kirby said. “He was kind of a genius that way.”
In the summer of 1980, Taylor and Smiley designed a “massive” gazebo for a production of “Oklahoma.” After the show was over, the group rolled the gazebo down the streets of Troy to the Taylors’ house where it was permanently installed in their backyard.
“Everything with a purpose, nothing wasted,” Kirby said.
Taylor retired from TROY in 1998 and immediately started his next venture—opening the Continental Cinema 5 movie theater with his son and business partner, Chase. He was also the mastermind behind the much-beloved Dollar Movie Night on Wednesdays for TROY students.
“The people in Hollywood actually called Jeff one day,” Kelley said. “There was this horrible, stupid movie called ‘Piranha,’ and they said, ‘Do you realize that in the entire United States, you had more people see ‘Piranha’ at your theater on Wednesday night than anyone else in the country?”
The idea for the scholarship was born last year when Smiley saw the newly-named TrojanVision studio and had the thought to donate a scholarship in his own name. While at dinner with Kirby and Kelley at their second-favorite eatery, Larry’s BBQ, he had the idea to make it the Jeff Taylor Scholarship in memory of their friend.
“Phil was talking about the Marge and Wright Kelley Scholarship and all of a sudden it came to me, what about the Jeff Taylor Scholarship?” he said. “It wasn’t about me anymore, it was about my friend.”
The scholarship is available to students enrolled in theater who have a special interest in technical theater, particularly lighting and sound.
“We want to encourage other people like Jeff who didn’t necessarily want to be on stage, but who wanted to be important in a show. The behind-the-scenes stuff is equally important,” Kirby said. “You can’t do a show without everyone behind the scenes. Someone who works tech isn’t just someone who didn’t get cast. They contribute.”
If you would like information about contributing to the Jeff Taylor Scholarship Endowed Scholarship for Theatre Lighting & Sound, please call (334) 670-3608.