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Professor talks about passion for acting

Cecilia Glover | Wednesday, November 2, 2011

One Saint Mary’s College history professor said his passion for acting has allowed him to engage with the College on another level.


Professor Bill Svelmoe, who has acted in Saint Mary’s plays for the last ten years, said said the success of a play depends on a group mentality — something that’s very different from the independent nature of a professor’s job.


“Taking part in theater is very different from what I do as a professor,” Svelmoe said. “A lot of my work as a professor is solitary — sitting in my office, preparing for class … Everybody is involved with theater — the backstage folks, the actors, the directors, the costumers — everyone.”


Svelmoe said taking part in plays is a way to get to know students outside the classroom.  


“It is a very different relationship,” he said. “To my students in class, I’m ‘Professor Svelmoe,’ but for the students I act with, I’m just ‘Bill,’ another actor.”


Svelmoe will appear in Saint Mary’s upcoming play, “Eurydice,” which will debut at the Little Theatre in the Moreau Center for the Arts on Thursday, Nov. 10.


“Eurydice will be visually fascinating,” he said.  “It’s not your typical play.  It’s much more poetic and has the potential to be very emotionally powerful.”


He said he had never acted before coming to Saint Mary’s.


“You could not have pulled me onto the stage with a hook,” he said. “The thought of acting was terrifying. To me, acting is really putting yourself out there.”


But ten years ago, after continually turning down one of his students’ requests that he take the male lead in an upcoming play, he said he decided to give it a shot.


Svelmoe said he soon became fascinated by the acting process.


“Sitting there night after night, and seeing how everything came together, amazed me,” he said. “For several years I continued to take on very small roles, but eventually the director cast me in a lead role.”


Svelmoe said that over the years, he’s been cast in several lead roles at Saint Mary’s College, as well as in community theaters like the South Bend Civic Theatre and Niles Theater.


Svelmoe, who also writes fiction, said he enjoys acting because it is a “wonderful” art form that has similarities with creative writing. He said he’s currently writing a series of novels.


“To me, [theater] taps into that same creative area of your brain; you have to be able to richly imagine something,” Svelmoe said. “You have to imagine a scene and project yourself in to it.”


He said one of his favorite parts about participating in plays is seeing all the bits and pieces come together in the final week.


“What’s amazing about plays is, about a week before it opens- every play I’ve been in- you think, ‘there is no way we’ll make it, no way.’ But somehow, that last week it just comes together,” Svelmoe said.  “A lot of work gets done in the last week, a lot of work.”