When Southwest Minnesota State University senior Jason Shores walks across the stage to receive his diploma on May 5, it will be the end of a long, unconventional road.
Shores, a 40-year-old non-traditional student, will graduate with a degree in studio art, with a graphic design minor. Yet it's neither of those two areas he'll be pursuing after graduation. He has his eye set on the theater.
He'll be performing in his final play tomorrow at 2 p.m., "The 39 Steps." It brings to a close a rewarding theater experience, one he doesn't want to see end quite yet.
He graduated from high school in Beaverton, Ore. His father, Phil, and mother, Sheila, would later move to Mankato, where Phil got a job working for the city and his mother found work at the Mankato Clinic.
Shores went to college for two years at Minnesota State University, Mankato, where he studied English literature. He then moved to Marshall and worked for 10 years before being laid off.
"It was time to go back to school. The job market was at a downturn, and I decided to finish my undergraduate degree," said Shores.
His immediate plans include "going to work for a while" while he pursues graduate schools.
"I'm looking now, getting materials together, getting audition tapes packaged. I'd like to pursue acting in grad school, so I can teach. I want to stay involved in theater, I think it matches some of my artistic talents," he said.
The University of Arkansas "is looming large" as his selection, he said. Northwestern in Chicago is also a possibility.
"Timing is an issue. Given my age, certain schools look favorably on that, and there are some that don't," he said.
Returning to college wasn't all that difficult, he said.
"I was surprised how well I fit in," he said. "There are other non-traditional students here as well, and I was alongside freshmen and sophomores and didn't feel out of place. I felt like I belonged."
He has benefited, this second time around in college, from life experience.
"The first time I went to college, I was a typical young person. It was a bump-and-grind situation more than anything. It's been a maturation process. Now, I say 'Here is what needs to get done' and I get it done. If I have problems with the framework, I fix it. I work within the framework, and I'm not afraid to ask questions,"?he said.
He is the father of a 14-year-old son, Peter.
"Financially, yes, it's been difficult," said Shores. "Things are tight, especially with theater. I'll be working at the (Schwan) call center once the play is over."
It was before he was enrolled at SMSU that a friend of his suggested he try out for an SMSU play.
"They have some parts for non-students sometimes," said Shores. "I had had some experience with the Marshall Area Stage Company, so I did," he said. His first production was "Fuddy Meers."
Why is he so connected to the theater?
"I feel it's a better way to share your humanity with somebody than any of the arts I've encountered outside of music. There's a real connectedness that sometimes happens between the actors and the audience. When that happens, it's like magic," he said.
His art is primarily drawing and painting, and he just finished putting the final touches on paintings for his senior graduate exhibit.
He's glad he chose the unconventional path.
"I've always been drawn to the arts. I was led to believe that there was no use following those sorts of paths, that they'd go nowhere. But after (being in the workforce for 10 years), I'm going to do what I want to do. I'll make it work," he said.