Coleman brings change to largest student organization on campus, UTBy Carrie Golus
During the summer, Heidi Coleman was appointed Director of University Theater, one of the largest student organizations on campus. More than 400 students from all disciplines participate each year in UT, staging a different production almost every weekend of the academic year.
Coleman describes herself as a hybrid, bringing together an academic and performance background. She earned her bachelors degree in theater at Duke University and her masters at Columbia University. In between, she worked as a director, stage manager and dramaturg; taught at TheaterWorks in California, at Columbia University and at Barnard College; and was the programming coordinator for the Center for Gay and Lesbian Studies at City University of New York.
Colemans plans for UT are as wide-ranging as her rÈsumÈ. This fall, she already has launched a new Friday afternoon Lab Series, a forum for guest artists, faculty and students to participate in workshops and discussions. Guests have included members of Steppenwolf Theater and Court Theatre.
Longer term, Coleman envisions UT-sponsored conferences on the arts in education and the growth of performance studies departments.
She also is revamping the School Partnership Program, which matches UT volunteers with neighborhood schools to help with drama programming. Beginning this year, UT volunteers will go through an intensive three-day training with guest artists and educators, and thereafter will meet once a month. Ultimately, I hope this will lead to a new course being developed in time for SPP next fall, she said.
In response to student demand, Coleman also is expanding UTs range of courses to include stage combat, active dramaturgy, ensemble analysis and Meisner method acting. UT also is expanding physically, with two new classroom/rehearsal spaces opening in the new Bartlett Dining Commons.
This fall, as well as teaching an introductory drama course, Coleman is working with a group of 10 students on an innovative independent study, The Antigone Project, the brainchild of recent alumnus Saket Soni. Soni and the students plan to create a dramatic production based on the real-life stories of asylum-seekers being assisted by the Kovler Center, a human rights group. These are people seeking political asylum because they were tortured in their home countries, Coleman said. But for this project, they are in a position of power as the author of their story and then as director of that section of the play.
For Coleman, one of the most exciting aspects of UT is that students run the program. They have both autonomy and ownership, she said. UTs student committee is responsible for all artistic decisions and production responsibilities. As a result, students are faced with the same questions and concerns that any professional theater faces.
What is exceptional about UT students is that they are fluent in all aspects of theater, able to act, direct, design and produce, she said. That broad range of experience makes UT alumni qualified to set up their own small theater groups. The I-80 Drama Company, which recently produced Chris Conrys Nebraskoblivion at the Neo-Futurarium, is one example.
UTs most famous alumnus doubtlessly is David Auburn, whose play Proof won both the Tony Award and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Following close behind is Greg Kotis, writer of the new musical Urinetown, which recently opened on Broadway.
Even if UT alumni choose a dramatically different career path from theater work, their time was well spent, Coleman said.
In UT, students master essential skills of problem-solving, conflict resolution, communication and leadership. This experience will fundamentally serve them in whatever career they choose.