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UT Department of Theatre & Dance

Pope gets the chair

By Robert Faires, Fri., May 28, 2010

Dr. Brant Pope
Dr. Brant Pope

The University of Texas Department of Theatre & Dance has a new chair: Dr. Brant Pope, head of the University of Illinois' Department of Theatre, who is nothing if not enthusiastic about his new position. "UT is a once in a lifetime job for a theatre person," he said via e-mail. The Minnesota native, who holds degrees from the University of Minnesota, University of Connecticut, Florida State University, and Michigan State University, is a variation on what show folk call a triple threat: He acts (professional credits in regional theatres and off Broadway), he directs (more than 30 productions across the country), and he writes (the drama Sins of Omission, about Nazi architect Albert Speer; many articles on playwright Arthur Miller, his scholarly specialty; a chapter in the essay collection Method Acting Reconsidered: Theory, Practice, Future; and an introductory theatre textbook co-authored with Jeffrey H. Huberman and James Ludwig, The Theatrical Imagination). Prior to taking the position in Illinois in 2008, Pope headed the acting and directing programs at Penn State University (2001-2007) and served as both director of the Florida State University/Asolo Conservatory for Actor Training and associate artistic director of Asolo State Theatre (1991-2001). He's been very involved in the University/Resident Theatre Association, serving as president from 2003 to 2007, and he's just been elected to a two-year term as vice president. One of the threads running through all that activity, including his time at Illinois, was his desire to connect theatre training with professional practice.

"One of the biggest accomplishments at Illinois has been to connect the program to Chicago and make that city the professional focus of the graduate programs," he said. "The major reason to train at Illinois is that the program is able to start, or restart, a theatre artist's career in Chicago. So we created a guest artists fund to bring hot Chicago directors, designers, and actors to work with the BFA and MFA students and committed the program to developing a Chicago theatre space and producing professional productions in Chicago. Without that, what advantages could any program offer artists in training in Urbana, Illinois? This is true for every theatre program that isn't located in a major media market. The program has to identify where and how it is unique and focus its energies on giving that national attention."

We should gain a better sense of how he will apply that approach to UT starting June 1, when Pope takes the reins from interim Chair Holly Williams, who's been running the department since Robert Schmidt left the chairmanship post a year ago. (Williams will retain her position as professor and continue to head the MFA dance program.) In addition to running the department, Pope will hold the Z.T. Scott Family Chair in Drama.

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