A Message from Melia Bensussen, Outgoing Chair, Performing Arts:
May 1, 2018
Dear Friends and Colleagues,
Eleven years ago I was honored to have been named Chair of the Performing Arts Department at Emerson. We had recently settled into the new Tufte building after our migration across town from Beacon Hill and Brimmer Street; the Majestic, Semel and Greene Theaters were a long way from The Fireplace and the Circle, and the future of Performing Arts looked shining bright to all of us.
As hopeful and optimistic as I was then about the future of this program, I could never have imagined the tremendous rise of the quality, intensity, creativity and depth of our students, alums, faculty, staff, guest artists and supporters.
So many people, shows, and changes have moved through these 11 years: beloved faculty like Harry Morgan, Leo Nikole, Mary Ellen Adams, Robbie McCauley now hold Emeritus status, soon to be joined by Tim Jozwick and Mary Harkins who are retiring this spring. Already beloved new faculty have joined our ranks. Staff have come and gone, but mostly, wonderfully for us, have come and stayed. Productions rehearse and tech and get struck, and live on for all of us in different ways.
As successful as these years have been, I know well how much work remains to be done, especially in areas of cultural inclusion and diversity, not just in our program but in the theatre industry as well.
I am sure you have a memorable class, professor, staff member or production; I share that feeling of delight with you now as I reflect back on these years.
My time as Chair concludes at the end of this academic year; I will be taking a one-year sabbatical and will return as Producing Director of Emerson Stage in Fall 2019, the position I originally held when I started as an Assistant Professor at Emerson in the Fall of 2000. I am thrilled to announce that Bob Colby will succeed me as Chair of Performing Arts, and I am very excited for him and the department. Bob is a nationally recognized leader in Theatre Education, running a highly-ranked program in a field that is more important than ever. Please join me in congratulating Bob on this achievement, one of so many in a remarkable career.
As gratifying as my work as Chair has been, one thing has always eluded me, and I am now seizing this opportunity to ask for your help: I have felt for years that we do not provide adequate funding to our students to further their training and careers outside of the classroom. I know of some students who could not give up work shifts in order to be in an Emerson Stage show; others who were unable to afford conference registration fees or the costs associated with traveling to an audition for summer work. Still others were not able to afford the technology and equipment needed to learn today’s ways of drafting or designing. And of course, the lack of scholarship funding affects so many students, not just the ones who are enrolled at Emerson, but also those who were never able to make the commitment to our program.
I am determined to end these limitations for Performing Arts students.
Today, I am thrilled to announce the creation of the Performing Arts Opportunity Fund. Your contribution to this fund will have an immediate and long-term impact in this way: one half of your contribution will be made available for immediate, current student use; the other half will build a dedicated Performing Arts Scholarship Fund. I encourage you to support this fund, and just as all collaborators are valued inside a production, so are contributions of any amount. Even the smallest amount makes a big difference to a student in need.
Your contribution has immediate impact, much like the outcome of a great production inspiring the next generation of theatre makers, and carrying on the high standard of a Performing Arts education at Emerson. I am so proud to see our graduates working throughout the profession, from Broadway and tours, to regional theatres of all sizes, to museums and community centers and schools and graduate programs: from design to stage management to directing, writing and producing, to acting and teaching and leading community change. Your support realizes these dreams.
Most excitedly, I am thrilled to share with you that this fund has been launched with a $100,000 gift from generous donors. I am humbled and more determined than ever to see this fund grow and thrive, the same aspirations I have for our students and program.
If you recall those long ago days of your Orientation Week, I welcomed you as an apprentice to our profession during our first official meeting, and I feel as strongly about this idea today as I did then. This life-long membership in our guild of theatre-makers offers us not only the chance to explore and hone our craft, but a chance to change the world around us by using theatre as a prism through which to understand ourselves and each other. And always, always, always, to mentor and support anyone who is coming up behind us, as those ahead of us have hopefully helped us.
I thank you for your support over my years as Chair, and thank you for your ongoing interest and support of our work in Performing Arts.
Very best wishes,
Melia Bensussen, Chair