B.U. Bridge
SPLASH! an outdoor
festival of fun, on
Monday, September 2,
at Nickerson Field
Week of 30 August 2002 · Vol. VI, No. 1

Current IssueIn the NewsResearch BriefsBulletin BoardBU YesterdayCalendarClassified AdsArchive

Search the Bridge

Contact Us


Doctor(al) dramas
Staffer-scholar takes literary path to stage

By Hope Green

In more than one sense, Michael Walker is a Renaissance man. As a scholar he specializes in late 16th- and early 17th-century drama. But as an actor, director, rock musician, photographer, filmmaker, and occasional restorer of antique bicycles, this BU employee also fits the popular definition of a Renaissance person: one who takes varied and adventurous paths to increase his understanding of the world.

Caption: Michael Walker (GRS'95) is directing Doctor Faustus at the Boston Center for the Arts. Photo by Vernon Doucette


Caption: Michael Walker (GRS'95) is directing Doctor Faustus at the Boston Center for the Arts. Photo by Vernon Doucette


To Walker (GRS'95), assistant to the director of Purchasing Services, theater is a significant part of that quest for comprehension. He is currently directing Christopher Marlowe's rarely staged play Doctor Faustus at the Boston Center for the Arts, a project that combines his expertise in English literature and in theater.

"My background as an academic is intrinsically tied to my work in performance," he says. "That was a big reason for my going to graduate school. I wanted to get a solid background in textual analysis that would help me as an actor."

Walker began acting professionally 13 years ago, while attending the University of North Carolina in Charlotte, but he has had scant formal training apart from voice and diction lessons. His directing experience began in the mid-1990s, when he was working for Willing Suspension Productions, a company of GRS English students interested in reviving obscure but historically important Renaissance dramas. He also joined the Bridge Theatre Company, which is now producing Doctor Faustus.

The company saw Walker as a natural choice to direct the current production because of his familiarity with Marlowe. The play is just one version of a tale that has been told in many cultures: the respected German scholar Faustus, believing that he has exhausted the traditional academic fields, makes a pact with the devil to acquire boundless knowledge and magical powers. He winds up wasting his talents, playing tricks on noblemen as he travels through Europe. Ultimately, pride keeps Faustus from repenting until it is too late, and he is condemned to hell.

"Even if the story of Faustus is not something the majority of people have encountered," Walker says, "the notion of selling one's soul to the devil for knowledge is well worn. It's illicit knowledge, so it's tied in all sorts of ways to the long tradition of divine prohibition against knowing things that should be relegated only to the divine. That's what Faustus' chief transgression is; he wants to achieve godly power. He gets that by abjuring God, strangely enough, but as a morality play this doesn't work quite like those morality plays written before Marlowe's. It's much more ambivalent about the punishment, and about the way the protagonist uses his knowledge once he has it - a way that is rather cheap and petty."

The play was experimental for its time, composed as a series of disjointed episodes. Frequently, when Faustus wrestles with his conscience, angels and demons appear with him onstage - similar, Walker observes, to the figures that pop up over the shoulders of animated cartoon characters as they contemplate mischief. In much the same way, he says, expressionist plays and horror films of the early 20th century used symbolic lighting and allegorical characters to project the internal drama of the psyche.

Dr. Faustus poster

  Dr. Faustus poster

As Walker sees it, Doctor Faustus is not a judgment or cautionary tale, but simply a comment on the sudden social and cultural freedom that characterized the Renaissance. On the other hand, he says, it is possible to draw analogies to contemporary issues, such as cloning and artificial intelligence, where humans have the power to tinker with nature in profound ways.

"I think the danger inherent in depth of understanding is part of what we see in this story," Walker says. "And that certainly applies now as it did in just about any other time."

Walker is a seeker of knowledge, too, but unlike Faustus, he apparently has no demons whispering in his ear. He spent five years in the GRS doctoral program, but the combined schedule as adjunct lecturer and scholar left little time for theatrical pursuits. In June 2001 he went on temporary leave from the graduate program and accepted a full-time position in the Office of Purchasing Services, giving him, among other benefits, a more predictable routine. He's interested in Web design, so he built a Web site for the office, and he has also helped write and edit its publications. Soon the department will roll out a new purchasing-card program that he has helped to

"Surprisingly," he says, "my past directorial experience has prepared me quite well for the job, because it involves managing lots of details and allocating responsibility."

Walker hopes one day to finish his degree. For now theater takes up most of his spare time, although he has many other callings, including the visual arts, and also admits to being a bicycle fanatic; he has collected, built, and raced bikes.

"I like to learn new things," he says, "but I also don't tend to leave them behind once I start to learn them. It's a blessing and a curse. After some time you start to hanker after a more momentous accomplishment in one area, and you have to reconcile yourself to the fact that this can take a while."

Doctor Faustus, starring Todd Hearon (GRS'02) and directed by Michael Walker (GRS'95), opened August 23 and continues through September 6 at the Boston Center for the Arts, 539 Tremont St. in Boston's South End. Reserve tickets by calling the BCA box office at 617-426-2787.


30 August 2002
Boston University
Office of University Relations