By James Brendlinger
When I started attending Kutztown University in 1990, it was my intention to become a publicist. I did not get involved in any clubs or activities that first semester, but signing up for an elective arts course with Professor Johanna Forte was my first introduction to the theater program at KU. When I took Oral Interpretation with Dr. Gary Balfantz the next semester, I knew I was not going to be a publicist after all. By the time I was a senior, directing “The Purpose of the Moon” under the advisement of Professor Roberta Crisson, I knew I would have a life in the theatre.
I have been teaching high school theatre for 20 years, I have owned my own production company for eight and every single day I use the things I learned in the theatre program at my alma mater. I wish Professor Forte could see the wardrobe at Lake Howell High School in Winter Park, Fl., organized and managed according to the principles I learned when she was my mentor. I wish Gary Balfantz and Roberta Crisson could attend a performance of one of my plays here, so they would see how I have applied what they taught me about play production.
Getting involved in theater at Kutztown gave me the confidence I needed to connect with the university community in other ways: I became a DJ at WRKU-FM, wrote a weekly column for The Keystone, performed at the Old Bear’s Den Coffee House and networked with other theater students with whom I have continued to collaborate with for two decades. Working in the costume room, auditioning for plays, traveling to conferences and competitions and eventually directing my own play in Schaeffer Auditorium’s Little Theatre are some of my most treasured memories of college.
When I began applying for teaching jobs in 1994, it was this wealth of Kutztown theatrical experiences that got me my first job. What interviewers saw—what KU gave me to show—was that I had worked on traveling children’s plays; I had collaborated with the art department on publicity projects, I had worked backstage in four different performance venues on campus and performed onstage all over the country. My professor had led our class in creating a collection of performance narratives that became one of the first student-generated texts published about HIV awareness and prevention and more. I will always be grateful to the theater department for preparing me to be a teacher, producer, performer and technician.
So after almost 50 years of creative performance, there is no longer a theatre major at Kutztown. It is too late for protest but just about the right time for a eulogy. While being a KU theater major is no longer an option, students can still take an active part in keeping drama alive at the university. Sunshine Players bring educational theatre to underprivileged children in local schools, and Perforum (which was Readers Theatre back when I was in school) is a club offering diverse opportunities in oral interpretation, storytelling, poetry slams and improv. Not to sound too revolutionary, but you could also start your own theater group, whether it is a legitimate drama club or a guerilla theatre organization. Get involved with local community theatres and make sure everyone there knows you are representing KU. Volunteer to help with a high school play or a church pageant. Slowly but surely show this one important thing to the powers that be: that a truly world class university—if that is what Kutztown wants to be—needs to offer a well-rounded arts education, one that includes a theatre major.
I hope I live to see the theatrical renaissance of Kutztown University.