When DeLance Minefee, B.A. ’94, came to Henderson he already knew he was headed for the stage. But he says Henderson gave him some of the tools he needed to go all the way from Jacksonville, Arkansas, to the Big Apple.
In high school, DeLance had received offers from other universities to play football, but he knew that wasn’t what he wanted to do. Instead, acting in a high school production of the musical Fame
changed his direction. “As soon as I stepped on stage, I realized that all of the sports I had done were just to have an audience and perform. I knew after the first joke on stage, that’s what I wanted to do. I’m lucky that way I guess,” he says. “A lot of people don’t figure out what they want until much later.”
DeLance’s high school drama teacher guided him toward Henderson and then-theatre arts professor Kenneth Gilliam. As a student, he “pretty much lived and breathed in the theatre and dance department,” he says. But he also took some piano lessons and Tae Kwon Do in addition to dance lessons and rehearsing for productions.
From the very beginning, DeLance says his Henderson experience pushed him to be better than average, an advantage that has helped him be successful in a competitive field. “[Theatre arts professor] Doug Gilpin cast me in my first play there at Henderson. He didn’t allow mediocrity. He held us to a higher standard of what was required even though the resources weren’t as plush as some of the companies I’ve worked with,” he says. Since that time, Henderson’s theatre program has expanded significantly to include a second stage space and many other technical upgrades. And DeLance still keeps in touch with Gilpin on a regular basis.
Traveling with the dance company to the American College Theatre Festival (ACTF) and being able to visit other campuses showed DeLance that although he was attending a small state school, he was getting the same quality education as at other larger universities, among other benefits. “I thought about transferring to Northwestern in Chicago, but after going to ACTF that year and realizing that the education I was getting was not lesser and the price was right, that’s what made me stay at Henderson,” he says.
DeLance also appreciated the liberal arts aspect of his Henderson education. In addition to classes in acting, he says he picked up valuable technical theatre skills and backstage experience. “What Henderson did was provide a well-rounded foundation that I could build upon. I learned about everything.”
He met his first mentor at Henderson, a visiting dance instructor named Sherman Steward. After spending three months working on dance technique in Germany with Steward, DeLance knew he was on the right track to make a career.
After graduating from Henderson with a bachelor’s degree in theatre arts and a minor in dance, DeLance completed professional acting work at the Arkansas Repertory Theatre and in Chicago and New York. Later, he earned a Master of Fine Arts degree in acting from the American Repertory Theatre/Moscow Art Theatre Institute for Advanced Theatre Training at Harvard University. Today, DeLance works as a professional actor, dancer and singer in New York City. He also does lighting design and set construction for a variety of productions.
Although DeLance’s career path is one that’s not traveled by many, he says he’s learned a few things that can apply to any incoming student: “Don’t settle for mediocrity. Choose what excites and motivates you.” He is proof of where that kind of discipline, properly cultivated, can take a person.