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In the Spotlight

Hailed as the reigning queen of Southern Gothic, actress Dale Dickey uses her talent to raise the profile of UT and the state of Tennessee while inspiring students to pursue their dreams.

Dickey’s best-known roles on-screen are in Christy, My Name is Earl, Breaking Bad, Justified, True Blood, and the Oscar-nominated film Winter’s Bone, which earned her an Independent Spirit Award. She recently appeared in another Oscar-nominated film, Hell or High Water, and in the HBO series Vice Principals.

The Knoxville native began acting at age nine. When she entered UT as a theatre major in 1979, she had already appeared in more than 20 university productions.

“UT has always had one of the most unusually fine theatre programs anywhere because of the facilities, the variety of professors, because of the practical experience you get,” Dickey said. “You’ve got top people training you and tremendous performance opportunities.”

She has often returned to the stage at UT, starring in productions of Our Country’s Good, The Rainmaker, Steel Magnolias, A Streetcar Named Desire, and Sweeney Todd.

The head of the Department of Theatre, Cal MacLean, describes Dickey as “a remarkable asset,” having seen her work with students on several shows. The university awarded her an honorary Master of Fine Arts degree at the fall 2015 commencement ceremony.

Addressing the graduates, Dickey said she took a lot of odd jobs to make ends meet before becoming a full-time actress. She worked as a waitress and law office receptionist, drove a tofu sandwich truck, delivered balloons, valet parked cars, hawked products in grocery stores, and “cleaned a lot of bathrooms.”

Dickey urges students to be true to themselves and find their niche in life. “There are no small roles or walk-ons in this life. No matter where you end up, a big city or a small town, your story is unique and important.”

Those experiences helped strengthen her resolve. “I wanted nothing more than to pursue my dream of acting which I learned here at the University of Tennessee,” she said. “I often think of UT as standing for Utter Tenacity. Tenacity is a big thing you’ve got to have out there, no matter what it is you are going after.”

Be curious, she advised, look for joy, and be willing to change when needed. “There is so much room for improvisation.”

The UT Department of Theatre has nationally competitive degree programs for undergraduates and a nationally ranked MFA acting program for graduate students.

UT is one of twelve universities in the US with its own professional theatre in the League of Resident Theatres. The Clarence Brown Theatre Company is fully integrated into the Department of Theatre’s curriculum.

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