After starting their acting careers in the theater program at Bluegrass Community and Technical College, Zach Moseley and Jeremy Gillett moved up to the University of Kentucky.
But don't expect them to call being in a BCTC production a comedown.
"I love working with Tim," Gillett says of BCTC theater director Tim X. Davis, who is directing UK and BCTC's co-production of The Grapes of Wrath. "He introduced me to theater, and it's good to be working with him again."
Moseley, who plays Tom Joad in the production based on John Steinbeck's novel, says he was "interested to see how my old friends from BCTC and new friends from UK would blend together. I was surprised how quickly they came together."
That sentiment extends to the top of both theater programs.
Davis and UK theater department chairwoman Nancy Jones describe the decision to partner as a simple exchange of e-mail saying, "Hey, let's work together."
"I had always thought it would be great to bring Tim in as a guest artist," Jones says. "We talked first about partnering in general and then Grapes of Wrath specifically."
Grapes was a show that UK Theatre had wanted to produce for a while. Lighting-design professor John Holloway was a big proponent of it because of the design possibilities it presented. It just happens that the play — adapted by Frank Galati from the novel about a Depression-era family traveling across the country to find work in the fields of California — turned out to be really timely.
"It is certainly not a happy accident," Davis says. "We wish we were not going through these tough economic times. But it has been interesting to look at the parallels between now and back then."
Jones says she thought Davis was the right choice to direct Grapes; she thinks he has a knack for directing American epics. For several years, Davis directed the now-defunct Daniel Boone outdoor drama at Old Fort Harrod State Park in Harrodsburg.
One big problem with presenting Grapes is its epic-ness, with a cast of more than two dozen actors.
"We wondered how we would people the stage," Jones says.
Partnering with BCTC on the production answered that question. The cast is almost evenly split between the schools.
Davis also employed the talents of the film program at BCTC to create some video scenery for parts of the show and a quick title sequence at the beginning that makes it look as if the audience is about to see an old movie, maybe the classic 1940 film of Grapes of Wrath starring Henry Fonda as Tom Joad and John Carradine as Casy.
Stepping into those roles are Moseley and Gillett, whose roots are in BCTC but who now walk the halls of UK.
Both say they discovered theater through the community college program.
"I had done some theater before," Moseley says. "Then, I took a theater class, and it really reinvigorated me for theater."
Gillett came to BCTC after attending Jarvis Christian College in Hawkins, Texas, where he was studying business management. He had decided he wanted to be closer to home, and getting involved in the theater program quickly led to other opportunities, including a role in Actors Guild of Lexington's production of Ma Rainey's Black Bottom in 2007.
"There aren't as many people in the theater department as there are at UK, so if you're a little leery of theater, it's small, like a family, and you can grow in confidence," Gillett says.
That is one of the advantages of having the community college program as a launching pad, Davis says. Students with economic constraints can get started in theater while attending a less-expensive school.
And teaming with UK gives future Moseleys and Gilletts a preview of what the next step might be like.
"We tailor the program to meld easily with other state universities," Davis says, noting that BCTC theater grads have gone to Asbury College and Western Kentucky University. "Since UK is right in our back yard, though, we know a lot of students will want to go there."
With Grapes, they're just getting there a little early.