program director sees new collaborations in wings
Since the 1950s, regional theaters have sprung up in nearly every major
American city. As a result, actors, directors, designers, and other theater
folk need not live in New York or Los Angeles to work in their chosen
Award-winning director Jim Petosa, the new director of the College of
Fine Arts school of theatre arts, has built his career at a successful
nonprofit theater organization in Maryland. At CFA he hopes to hook up
graduate and undergraduate theater students with an expanded array of
regional theaters around the country. And through local collaborations,
he would like the school to contribute to the maturation of the Boston
"Boston is renowned as a city where music of importance happens,"
Petosa says. "I would like to see the city's theatrical profile equal
its excellence in music, and I think this school can play a real role
in helping to make that happen, with utter respect for theater artists
who are already here."
Petosa, who began his appointment on July 1, will continue to serve as
artistic director of the Olney Theatre Center in Olney, Md., a position
he has held for eight years. The arrangement will give CFA faculty and
students numerous opportunities to work at the Olney. With an annual budget
of almost $3 million, the center has 5,000 subscribers and puts on seven
mainstage productions a year, plus educational programs and a summer Shakespeare
A New Jersey native, Petosa studied theater as an undergraduate at Catholic
University in Washington, D.C. By the end of his freshman year, he says,
he realized he was better suited to direct than act.
After college Petosa worked for a year at the National Portrait Gallery
in Washington, D.C., in a program that integrated theater practices with
the teaching of American history. Then came seven years in New York "as
a young, poor theater artist, directing anything I could at any venue
that would have me," followed by two years back at Catholic University,
where he completed a master's degree.
In 1986, Petosa was named artistic director of the National Players Touring
Company, created 54 years ago as a first professional experience for graduates
of theater programs. Petosa expanded the company, which now performs theater
classics in 25 states, and organized its merger into the larger Olney
Theatre Center, where he was named director in 1994.
Under Petosa's leadership, the Olney Theatre Center, a former summer stock
theater, became a successful year-round regional operation with a multimillion
dollar budget. Petosa is also a coartistic director of the Olney's Potomac
Theatre Project, which stages political plays, and he has served on
a number of college and university faculties.
With experience in both academia and theater, Petosa plans
to keep bridging those worlds in Boston. To begin, he will make
efforts to deepen CFA's historic relationship with the Huntington Theatre
Company. In addition, he also hopes to build a network of professional
affiliations, reaching out to other theater organizations so as to afford
students "a smorgasbord of opportunities" for performance.
"The Huntington provides unique and excellent opportunities for
certain kinds of students," he says. "But it's hard for every
student to fit into its artistic mission, and it's unfair of us to ask
the Huntington to be all things to all students."
Petosa also plans to build on the school's existing relationships with
the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts, the Williamstown Theatre
Festival, and BU's Playwrights Theatre. In addition, he would like to
reinvigorate the BU Theatre Institute, a summer program for high school
Among the first items on his agenda, Petosa says, is to evaluate all the
existing theater programs at CFA and look for ways to broaden their intellectual
content, thereby "stimulating students to a curiosity beyond the
technique of acting." This might mean requiring more in-depth studies
of plays so that students can better understand the eras when they were
"There is no doubt in my mind that our students benefit from a very
rigorous, conservatory-style academic program," Petosa says. "What
concerns me is the extent to which they read their lines with enough information,
as a liberally educated student does.
"It is critical for theater artists to have a well-rounded sense
of the world, its literature - all aspects of life - because the theater
is reflective of so many aspects of a given culture," he says. "Sometimes
people think it is a very narrow course of study, when in fact, I believe,
it's the most liberal of all."