As Baylor prepares for commencement Dec. 20, one family still is enjoying memories of the May ceremony, when the third of their three children received a bachelor of fine arts degree in theater.
Evan, Amanda and Erik Archilla completed an 11-year odyssey at Baylor that began with Evan in 1992 as a freshman in the theater department. As he was graduating in 1996, his younger sister, Amanda, was entering, stage left. Three years later came the last Archilla sibling, Erik. And last May, all three gathered with parents Elliot and Judy and a host of extended family to take their final bow on the Jones Concert Hall stage.
In fall 1992, Elliot and Evan visited Baylor from Colorado, where they lived at the time, to see the campus and meet with then-chair of the theater department, Professor Bill Cook. Early for their appointment, the two wandered down a hall in Jones and discovered Stan Denman, a new lecturer, unpacking boxes in his office.
"He said to us, 'I'm going to try to help you, but I'm new here, so let me see if I know what we're doing,'" Elliot recalls. In the decade that ensued, Dr. Denman would become chair of the department after Cook stepped down, direct all three Archillas in productions and even loan his two daughters as flower girls in the wedding of Evan and fellow theater major, M'Emily Hargrove, BFA '96.
"You see these three kids, now four (with M'Emily), in this family and I'm extremely proud of every one of them," Dr. Denman says. "We do, vicariously, become their parents for a while; even though you separate that faculty/student relationship, you can't help but care about them."
Elliot and Judy were active participants in their children's theater career at Baylor, attending every single performance, usually more than once -- a feat greatly facilitated when they moved back from Colorado to Tyler, Texas, during Evan's sophomore year. Elliot also became the unofficial archivist, capturing 34 productions on videotape, copies of which he's given to the department. In appreciation of Elliot's support, Dr. Denman invited him to make a cameo appearance in the musical "She Loves Me" during Erik's senior year. The father-son appearance was a first for the Baylor stage, Elliot says.
Financing their children's years at Baylor was not without its challenges. "Many years ago, my wife and I committed somehow to allow our children to attend whatever university they desired, regardless of the financial considerations," Elliot says. He is grateful their children all held work-study positions in the theater department and also credits assistance from scholarships, grants and loans.
The acting bug first bit when Evan was in junior high and one of his teachers encouraged him to try out for a play. "I was a nerdy kid, really insecure," Evan says. "I guess they figured out if I could get up and make people laugh, that would make me feel good about myself. Being on stage made me comfortable and through that process, I found I didn't necessarily need to be on stage to feel comfortable."
Amanda, who came with her parents to Evan's plays at Baylor, was mesmerized by those productions. "I used to sit there and watch him and M'Em and just be in awe of everything. I remember watching 'The Cherry Orchard' and being blown away."
Erik graduated in May summa cum laude, having progressed as a freshman actor who got all the boy roles in productions to one who could carry the lead. He, too, tagged along for the older siblings' performances and so, for him, Baylor "seemed like it was already home before I got here."
He began a one-year internship at Theater Three in Dallas right after graduation. "That gives me a year of certainty, and then who knows what's after that?" he says.
For the family members who gathered on campus last spring, it was a day filled with joy and pride, laughter and remembrances, but it also was a day of mixed emotions for Elliot and Judy. "Over the last 11 years, Judy and I have entrusted what is most precious to us, our three children, to Baylor University. These have been the most meaningful and rewarding years of our lives. The Lord has so richly blessed us."
Listening to Elliot's reminiscences, his family is quick to keep things in perspective. "We've been teasing him because this is really his graduation," Evan says. Adds wife Judy, "We say he should come to Baylor now and get his degree in acting, too."