Interim Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences; Professor of Theatre Arts
My undergraduate transcript does nothing to reveal what was the single most profound moment of my undergraduate education. Nestled among the classes that filled my general education requirements, and those that were pointing me toward meeting the requirements for my English major, sits Shakespeare: The Histories and Tragedies. It looks for all the world like its neighbors. But it was nothing like those classes, well-crafted as they were by the fine academic who delivered them. This one, and a particular moment in it, was life-changing.
Though my notes for this class are long gone, lost to moves across town and later across the country, I remember a phrase the professor used quite distinctly. He said, “theatre is the word incarnate.” The idea of the word made flesh, an artistic transformation at once sacred and sensual, got my attention, and it’s held my attention for going on thirty years. He also said that if we wanted to understand the mystery he described, we couldn’t sit in solitude with a text. We’d need to experience it breathing, sweating, moving on the stage. Go over to the theatre, he said, watch, listen, participate. Get to know the things that those who make theatre know.
Off I went, never to return. Theatres often sit on the outskirts of a campus, and so it was with the Culbreth Theatre. They also have a shape different from other academic buildings if they’re lucky enough to have a towering fly space. This one did. Like cathedrals that exploit the majesty of height, so too do theatres. Rather than being daunted or humbled by this magnitude at the university’s fringe, I was drawn to it and empowered. I ventured inside and I signed up to be on a running crew for a play I’d never heard of. I wasn’t entirely sure what I’d committed to do, but they seemed glad to have me. They took a quiet, shy reader they’d never laid eyes upon before, and welcomed her into their midst and their making. At a university that often seemed devoted to ranking and separating people according to a set of antique rules, these people seemed to care nothing about where I came from or who I knew so long as I wanted to work.
So I got to work, first on this play, and then on a dozen more before I graduated. My transcript picked up a second plot line as I added a Drama major to my English major. Beyond the transcript and the classes for both majors were the shows I stage managed, acted in, and directed. Those things together tell the story of who I became in college, and who I would become in graduate school and then in my professional life. While the inciting incident of Shakespeare: The Histories and Tragedies is obscured, the narrative it propels is, for the person at its center, quite dramatic. Thank you, Arthur Kirsch, for the inspiration to start a journey, to change my story, and to sustain a career.