October 18, 2011
From Rockette to MSJC instructor, Lori Craig Torok brings production of Metamorphoses to the college
Metamorphoses, based on the myths of Ovid, will be presented by Lori Craig Torok’s theater performance students starting Oct. 20.
A full-time faculty member at Mt. San Jacinto College since 2000, Torok also became the department co-chair for Theatre Arts and Dance that same year.
She feels the latest production will bring a new spirit and energy to the department.
“We’re in a period of re-growth after many longtime students have moved on – transferring to four-year universities,” said Torok.
She said when choosing a piece, she has challenges to consider. One is that it needs to be suited to a studio theater/Black Box, which is what she works with at the Menifee Valley Campus. The venue offers an intimate focus on the story, writing and performances rather than technical elements.
“It also has to have a large enough cast so it’s worthwhile for my students,” she said. “My goal in the end is to have it look as professional as possible while providing the valuable experience of having students work on different stages.”
Torok started dancing at age two while growing up in New York. She got her first theatrical experience in high school.
“When I saw there was a place for dancers, singers, actors and artists I knew I found my home,” she said. “I was a choreographer at the age of 15 thanks to a great drama instructor, Jerry Starr. I was also head of the drama club and by the time I got to college I had already choreographed major productions.”
Torok majored in English education and minored in theater. She earned her master’s degree in dance in New York.
“I went to New York to get experience,” said Torok. “I didn’t want to teach only from what I was taught but rather from a place of knowing.”
Her first professional job was with a summer repertory musical theater. Shortly after that she auditioned with hundreds of other women and landed one of only four positions with the Radio City Music Hall Rockettes.
“I put in my eighth-grade yearbook that one day I’d go to New York City and be a dancer with the Rockettes,” she recalled. “But I knew at a very young age I’d be a teacher,” she said.
From 1993 to 1996 she toured nationally with headliner Susan Anton.
Torok applied for teaching positions and soon was hired as the head of the musical theater department at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. She spent three years there and gained a lot of experience as a director.
She met and married Stephen Torok, who taught music at the university. They moved to Southern California so he could pursue his master’s degree at USC. He taught at Mt. San Jacinto College for about seven years and is now teaching at MiraCosta College in North San Diego County.
Torok’s ability to decipher and translate the intricacies of drama, musicals and theater production to others has led her to a couple of other positions.
As the Dance Scholar in Residence for the Temecula Community Theater since 2008, she researches, prepares and delivers pre-curtain speeches prior to dance performances and leads post-performance Q&As with artistic directors and dancers.
She also served on the Community Dance Task Force for the community theater and assisted in the development of a monthly choreography showcase: “DanceMoves.”
Since 2009, Torok has produced instructional podcasts for Inside the Dancer’s Studio, which focuses on the art and craft of dance. Lectures, interviews and discussions about dance are provided to an international web audience through iTunes and at http://podcast.insidethedancersstudio.com.
Of the more than 40 different courses that Torok has taught at MSJC, she wrote the curriculum for 30 of them. Her expansion of the theater and dance departments is evident in the exciting productions she continues to provide to her students.
Metamorphoses “takes place around a body of water so we built a pool in our lab space,” explained Torok. “As much as my students think they know about their characters and movement, the water will change everything. The water in and of itself is very theatrical and beautiful.”
She said the production explores love in many incarnations.
“It’s a very dense piece. I think the audience will enjoy their journey through different stories – in the end it’s a very satisfying journey,” said Torok.
Performances will be Oct. 20, 21 and 22 at 7:30 p.m. and Oct. 22 and 23 at 2 p.m. Tickets are $10, $9 with SGA sticker and reservations are recommended.
The Menifee Valley Campus is at 28237 La Piedra Rd. and the theater is in room 207.
MSJC students rehearse in costume for the upcoming performance of Metamorphoses, opening Oct. 20 at MSJC.
Lori Craig Torok, fifth from left, was a Rockette before she became the co-chair of MSJC’s Theater Arts and Dance Department.