by Katie Ponzi ’06, M’07 and Lori Marshall M’92
Photos courtesy of Professor Emeritus Michael Kelly
Lesson plan and script. Classroom and stage. Students and audience. The parallels between teaching and theatre are interesting. For students and faculty on the college stage in theatre’s first 40 years here, the parallels were more than a coincidence.
“Teachers really have to know what they’re doing,” said Phil Graneto, chair of theatre and dance department and faculty member since 1970. “Years ago, all of our students planned to be teachers. Our program focused on a practical approach to teaching theatre, so they had hands-on training. They learned to make costumes, paint scenery, act and direct.”
In fact, with Elizabeth Tohill as drama coach starting in the ’30s, general speech and theatre instruction and varied performances were staples of campus dramatic arts. President Thomas Robinson gave speech/theatre professor Michael Kelly the go-ahead to build an academic program for future drama teachers and the first class enrolled in 1966.
From the start, Glassboro’s theatre education depended not only on doing things, but also on doing them well. The faculty soon grew to include 12 full-time specialists (and courses) in design, production, acting and child drama. Musicians and artists pitched in for performances and behind the scenes. In the process, the aspiring teachers prepared for their careers and ’Boro audiences enjoyed superb shows.
By the late ’60s, GSC’s summer theatre was well under way and, over its 24-year run, put on full-scale musical and children’s theatre productions and brought actors and technicians from many other eastern colleges to work on our stage.
“What always surprises me is the quality and the richness, the nuances,” said Graneto. “We do some remarkably good work. There’s focus and intention and an idea that’s visualized and brought to life so completely. Compared to similar undergraduate programs, our actors—their posture, their expressions—
appear more focused. You don’t see threads hanging from costumes or things that are anachronistic or incomplete.”
Nearly 500 graduates later, theatre now rarely enrolls teacher candidates exclusively and playbills list cast and crew from virtually every major. A performance cycle that includes Greek, Shakespearean, British and modern theatre ensures that over four years, students benefit by learning about all the traditional styles and eras of dramatic arts.
This season’s mainstage schedule includes Moliere’s “The Doctor In Spite of Himself” directed by Graneto. Kelly first directed the play on campus in 1970. “It’s always been a favorite of mine for its commedia dell’arte style,” he said. Kelly recalls the very physical nature of the comedy and the exercise it gave everyone, including himself.
With 17th century period costumes and a puppet stage set design, Kelly’s actors appeared to be dangling from strings controlled by a puppeteer. Too spirited to be contained and eager for independence, the puppets soon broke free of the strings—another fitting parallel to young teachers learning to bring characters to life.
Mike Bernstein ’82 is an environmental assessor with a consulting firm in Moorestown. He’s assessed properties in 28 states, Canada, Mexico and Germany.