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Campus News


Enter, Stage Left: Doolen, with a Fresh Approach

by Greta Petry

J. Kevin Doolen, the new chair of the Department of Theatre, believes that “theater gets to the core of what it means to be human. That’s the point of theater. It is not mere entertainment.”

Doolen, who joined the University at Albany last summer from Texas A&M University, said theater is a way in which students “can experience important social concerns, shed light into the human spirit, use their knowledge of literature, and combine these to align perfectly with the arts and psychology.”

With this philosophy in mind, Doolen sees theatre as being truly “the” liberal art. “There is nothing at this University that a student could take that is not applicable to theater,” he said.

While working with seven Broadway directors and one from the Royal Shakespeare Company during an intensive summer-long colloquium in 1981, Doolen asked, “What is the number one quality you are looking for when you hire an actor?”

This was the answer: “Someone who is highly educated. They have a point of view and something to say.” It is Doolen’s quest to provide directors with that highly educated person. For the 60 to 80 theatre majors per year at UAlbany, that means teaching students to survive and thrive in the highly competitive field of show business.

“A theater artist is someone who has to say something,” said Doolen. While a student may be proficient at acting, in order to survive he or she will need to become business savvy. “It is amazing how little students know about the business of show business. We give them a dose of reality,” said the department chair and associate professor, who teaches an advanced acting studio, Auditioning and the Business of Show Business (A Thr 449).

In that class he has introduced acting in front of the camera. “Acting on a stage is a whole lot different from acting with a camera three feet in front of you,” he noted. “I have them audition in five different spaces, for example, small classroom, main theater, studio theater, and TV studio. The auditions are open to the public in a juried performance. The judges are three UAlbany professors, Mark Dalton, director of performance; Yvonne Perry, actress of stage and television; and Leigh Strimbeck, actress, and several from New England (Will Kilroy from the University of Southern Maine; expert Michael Chekhov; and actress Peggy Rae Johnson, from Keene State College).

There is also some marketing involved.

“I teach them how to sell themselves. What an actor or actress has to sell is his or her heart, mind, experience, talent, and craft,” Doolen said.

Coming from Texas A&M, where television and radio studios were a given, Doolen sees a need for updated facilities and new technology to support the performance and practice needs of today’s students.

“The Performing Arts Center has not changed since the 1960s, and yet we are the showcase facility for the SUNY system, with four different theaters,” he said.

Doolen points out that theater reaches far beyond the classroom. Half the crew and cast in any production are non-majors, and hundreds of students each year take theater classes to fulfill liberal arts and general education credits. Many more hundreds of people in the community come to see UAlbany stage productions.
In addition to his administrative and teaching duties, Doolen is currently busy with the department’s self-study assessment. He is also producing artistic director of the season.

“We are constantly in production. Every week of the year there is something going on,” said Doolen, whose vision is for the department to become nationally ranked and accredited by the National Association of Schools of Theatre. He said it is important for the department “to reach out and do things that are good for the community,” as well as to dispel any provincialism that may exist.

Doolen graduated with honors from Southern Illinois University with a bachelor’s degree in theater, and earned an M.F.A. in directing from the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana, in 1981.

At the Director’s Colloquium for the Theatre Today in 1981, he worked with directors Arvin Brown, Jerald Freedman, Clifford Williams, Vinette Carroll, Edwin Sherin, John Reich, Lee Bruer, and Garland Wright. With Mary O’Leary, he produced the soap opera Guiding Light in 1993.

Prior to joining Texas A&M in 2001, he taught at Columbia Basin College from 1995 to 2001, where he was a tenured professor and chair of the Department of Speech and Theatre Arts.

He received the Kennedy Center Medallion, a lifetime achievement award, in February 1996, and was awarded three Kennedy Center meritorious achievement awards for directing Lonely Planet, Mr. Bundy, and The Boys Next Door, all at Columbia Basin College. He also directed The Shadow Box and Brighton Beach Memoirs at Texas A&M.