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SMC professors embrace theater

| Monday, September 1, 2014

Saint Mary’s professor of history Bill Svelmoe and associate professor of theater Mark Abram-Copenhaver were busy this summer going beyond the classroom to act and direct at the local South Bend community theater.

SMC ProfPhoto courtesy of Zara Osterman
Director of media relations Gwen O’Brien said Svelmoe first began his career in acting once Abram-Copenhaver recruited him for a non-speaking role as King Louis in the College’s 2002 production of “Learned Ladies.”

“He put me in tights and said I’d have to do a little dance at intermission,” Svelmoe said. “So I did a dance in tights and it was utterly humiliating. But as I was sitting there watching Mark work with the actors, I was just fascinated by it.”

Svelmoe said he enjoys the differences between the academic realm and the performing arts.

“A lot of what we do in academics is solitary … the research and the writing and all that,” Svelmoe said. “Theater is such a collaborative art. I love the rehearsal process almost more than the shows themselves.”

Svelmoe soon found himself in numerous theater productions throughout greater Michiana, and the community has greatly appreciated his critically-acclaimed performances, O’Brien said. In the past year alone, he has starred in “The Great Gatsby” and “Acting: The First Six Lessons”  (The Acting Ensemble), “The Fox on the Fairway” (Elkhart Civic Theatre), “Radium Girls” (Saint Mary’s College), and “Leading Ladies” and “The Clean House” (South Bend Civi Theatre).

Svelmoe said that theater has been a major influence on another one of his other hobbies: writing fiction.

“I think theater taps into that same area of my brain that writing fiction does, because when I am writing I can feel the emotions of the different characters,” Svelmoe said.

O’Brien said Svelmoe will finish a play and his second novel while on sabbatical during this academic year.

The community theatre has also enriched Abram-Copenhaver’s life in many ways, O’Brien said. He spent his most recent sabbatical year as executive director of the South Bend Civic Theatre, where he has served since 2000 in various roles.

“Now I’m back (on campus) and one of the most interesting opportunities is to keep looking for all the ways that having this theater nearby is a resource to our students,” Abram-Copenhaver said.

O’Brien said two of Abram-Copenhaver’s students are in the midst of conducting an independent study called the “Frankenstein Adaptation Project.” The students are working on the South Bend Civic Theatre’s fall production of an original adaptation of Mark Shelley’s “Frankenstein,” and both have taken part in community workshops with a local playwright and have written their own adaptations.

Abram-Copenhaver said his position at the South Bend Civic Theatre allows him to assure theater remains a fundamental part of the College’s and local community’s life.

“I have the very lucky position at the Civic Theatre of being able to help a region regard theater as a powerful, vital part of what’s going on in the community life,” Abram-Copenhaver said. “My great opportunity at Saint Mary’s is to have intense involvement in the future of individual students and help them to grow their skills, excitement and vision of what theater can be.”



About Kelly Konya

Kelly Konya is an English major bred on Catcher in the Rye and Roman cornettos.

Contact Kelly