Professor and Chair, Theatre and Dance Department

theatre2We wore hard hats and boots the first time we entered the DoYo, trying to avoid stepping on nails or slipping in mud as we explored this skeletal work-in-progress resembling some Constructivist set by Meyerhold.

For years, we had dreamed about a bigger, better place for the Theatre and Dance department, one with adequate space, and upgraded equipment; where rehearsals could be held without the sound of tables and chairs scraping overhead in the Commons. Then word came through that Dorothy Young was giving the university the funding for an arts center. That this gift was coming from a fellow artist, one with a long career in the performing and visual arts, delighted us.

The Theatre faculty poured over blueprints, negotiated with architects, collaborated with trustees Michelle Fabrizio C’73 and Nancy Priest C’86 and conferred with Facilities, fine-tuning every detail: creating separate acting and directing labs; a full-scale shop; storage space for sets, props and costumes; a green room with kitchen; dressing rooms; a seminar room; smaller faculty offices that made room for a department lounge and a dazzling black box theatre. That theatre would not only give directors the chance to arrange the seating in a variety of ways—in the round, thrust, three-quarter—but would allow students leery of climbing thirty-foot ladders to hang lights by simply standing on a safe and sturdy grid, one level above a technical balcony and two above the stage.

Professor Joe Patenaude directed the first production in the new space. He chose Ragtime, a great big musical calling for a third of the actors to be African-American. At that time, we knew we couldn’t cast it from within the department, so the department reached out to get people from all over campus to audition.

Joe’s intention was not only to draw new people into participating in the Theatre department.  With Jim as set designer, Joe celebrated the space, utilizing the trap doors, technical balcony, the grid, even the huge double doors leading to the shop became a means for a dramatic entry onstage.

Dan LaPenta, who was chair at the time, performed along with Chief Evans in the show.  Dan notes that “Joe paid tribute to Dorothy Young’s early career as an assistant to legendary magician Harry Houdini by incorporating  Dorothy as a character.”

We lost Joe in March, 2007, though his spirit lives on in the DoYo. There’s a Joe Patenaude Library housed in our Green Room.  There is the Patenaude Internship program, created by Tom Kean, which gives Theatre and Dance majors support to do internships in New York, regional and international theatres.

Since the building opened in 2003 we have been able, as Professor Jim Bazewicz says, “to spread our wings and try things we couldn’t have in the old space.”

We hired Associate Professor Lisa Brenner (theatre historian), Associate Professor Chris Ceraso (actor-playwright),Technical Director Andy Elliott, and part-time Shop Supervisor, Jon Luks.

theatre1We now offer minors in Theatre, Dance and Arts Administration, and more acting and design-tech courses than ever. Along with stellar long-term adjuncts (Jen Plants, Lucy Ann Saltzman, Rodney Gilbert, Cheryl Clark, Jamie Richards and Robin Christian-McNair) we have brought in award-winning artists such as actors Olympia Dukakis and Norbert Leo Butz, director Anne Kauffman and the Erick Hawkins Dance company to work with our students. We commissioned The Veri***on Play from Tony-nominated Lisa Kron – very unusual for an undergraduate Theatre department.

We have formed partnerships with Ensemble Studio Theatre in Manhattan and the Boyden Center for the Arts in Newark. More and more of our students are working with both professional theatre artists and up and coming young artists. Many still go off to the London Semester to study. By May of last year, the number of majors climbed to more than 90. The university reports that our department remains one of the top reasons students wish to come to Drew.

For all of us, Lisa Brenner sums it up well: “I appreciate not only the physical beauty of the space–it’s always a pleasure to walk into the rotunda– but also how the building allows for communal space…. These spaces are constantly used by our students– whether to catch up on homework, hold meetings, or just connect with each other and with faculty. It’s like a second home.”

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