GTA students performing.

Tracey Brent-Chessum to chair theatre department beginning in August

Apr 20, 2020
Michael Lowe

Tracey Brent-ChessumThe Provost’s Office recently announced the hiring of Tracey Brent-Chessum as the new chair of Brenau’s theatre department effective Aug. 1.

Brent-Chessum replaces Ann Demling, who is retiring in May. During her 28 years as chair and professor at Brenau, Demling was instrumental in the growth of both the university’s theatre program and Gainesville Theatre Alliance — the nationally acclaimed collaboration of Brenau, University of North Georgia, theatre professionals and the Northeast Georgia community.

“The university extends its deep gratitude to Dr. Ann Demling,” said Provost Jim Eck. “She has devoted her professional life to educating Brenau students, and we wish her the very best as she transitions into retirement.”

An active director, producer, music director, conductor and new work development consultant, Brent-Chessum was drawn to Brenau University by its “faculty and leadership who understand that a college education should produce our nation’s next generation of thinkers and leaders — through whatever they choose to study.”

“I was looking for a university and faculty who, first, understood the balance needed between education and training and, second, were already thinking about how it could produce the next generation of artistic leadership,” said Brent-Chessum, a Los Angeles native who holds a Ph.D. in Theatre and Performance Studies from the University of Maryland.

Another plus for her was Brenau’s proximity to Atlanta, which she called “a new regional center” for American musicals.

“Look at the shows we know and love that began their journey in Atlanta: The Color Purple, The Prom, Bull Durham and Becoming Nancy,” she said. “Atlanta has clearly found the right audience to keep American musical development moving forward.”

Brent-Chessum’s scholarship focuses on propaganda and nationalism in American musical theatre with an emphasis on six “Salesmen of Americanism”: John Philip Sousa, George M. Cohan, Florenz Ziegfeld Jr., Oscar Hammerstein II, Stephen Sondheim and Lin-Manuel Miranda.

GTA students performing

Over the past decade, she has worked with faculty and students in theatre programs at the University of Maryland, Ball State University and Point Park University’s Conservatory of Performing Arts. During this time, she was also the founding managing/artistic director of Pallas Theatre Collective in Washington, D.C., developing new works to ensure the continuance of America’s musical theatre legacy.

It is this experience, combined with her passion for curriculum development, accreditation and academic leadership, that made Brent-Chessum a perfect fit for Brenau.

“Dr. Brent-Chessum made a most positive impression upon our theatre faculty and students, and her extensive background in management and musical theatre will help our program to grow in terms of regional and national prominence,” Eck said.

In her new role, Brent-Chessum said she looks forward to working with GTA and building upon the unique, collaborative opportunities it provides for its students.

“I can’t find one other program like the GTA anywhere in the country,” she said. “This program is set up to thrive on collaboration, rather than the single vision of a repertory theatre company. This is a gift and a legacy we can give our students: to learn the art of collaboration well.”

This collaboration, she said, will benefit students as they move on to careers after graduation.

“Collaboration is the art of balance,” she said. “It should allow us to bring our best artistic instincts to the table, provide time and energy to grow through the process, and allow us to maintain the other aspects of our lives. The art of balance means that we use collaboration to make our best art, not necessarily more art.

“I want students to graduate knowing how to work effectively to create something beautiful, while prioritizing their artistic needs and skills and their well-being. That is where the most meaningful art comes from.”

To read Gainesville Theatre Alliance’s full Q&A with Tracey Brent-Chessum, visit