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Week of 13 September 2002 · Vol. VI, No. 3


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Theater program director sees new collaborations in wings

By Hope Green

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 field.

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 theater scene.

  Jim Petosa, new director of CFA's school of theatre arts, believes intellect is as important as technique for students of the stage. Photo by Stan Barouh

"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 festival tour.

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 students.

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 written.

"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."


13 September 2002
Boston University
Office of University Relations