Roger Bechtel to Head Up Theater and Dance

Story posted August 13, 2008

Roger K. Bechtel has recently joined the Bowdoin faculty as chair of the department of theater and dance. His appointment as associate professor of theater and dance, with tenure, is a new position at the College in the emerging field of performance studies.

Roger Bechtel
Roger Bechtel

Bechtel has taught previously at Cornell University, Illinois Wesleyan University, and most recently at Miami University, Ohio, where he was associate professor of theatre and director of graduate studies.

An accomplished scholar, Bechtel has published widely and presented on contemporary avant-garde theater from Bertolt Brecht through Wendy McLeod and Suzan-Lori Parks. His book, Past Performance: American Theatre and the Historical Imagination (Bucknell University Press, 2007) has been highly praised for its probing examination of the relationship between works of theater and film and the historic events they represent.

In addition to his scholarly work, Bechtel has a distinguished career as an actor, director, playwright and teacher. He is Artistic Director of Big Picture Group, a highly original Chicago-based theater company he co-founded in 1994 that is known for cutting-edge, multimedia-enriched adaptations of classics as well as original explorations of contemporary culture.

"Roger is the uncommon combination of scholar and artist, whose scholarly work informs his performance and whose performance informs his scholarship," notes Dean for Academic Affairs Cristle Collins Judd. "Both his professional and collegiate-based theater productions have been praised for their conceptual originality and inventive, multimedia staging. He is an inspiring teacher whose courses appeal to a broad range of students, and he has given long thought to the role of theater and dance in a liberal arts curriculum."

Bechtel earned a B.A. in communications from DePauw University, a J.D. from New York University School of Law, a M.F.A. in acting from Yale University School of Drama, and a M.A. and Ph.D. in theater studies from Cornell University.

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Bechtel says he took a break from his acting career to pursue a Ph.D. "in order to give me reading time." As he deepened his critical inquiry into theater and began teaching, "I started to realize it was all wrapped up together," he adds. "I found a real symbiosis between my writing and my art.

"I think we tend to make a common mistake that intellectual work is not emotional, but for me, the most important thing that scholarship does is to fuel my imagination. If I'm reading about media culture, or post-modern aesthetics, for example, that will stimulate ideas about how I can represent certain abstract concepts onstage.

"That is what I try to do with students," he adds. "When you sort of open the gateway between the rich life of the mind, and the world of art, and help them walk between the two rooms, students flourish. They do very exciting stuff."

For Fall 2008, Bechtel will teach Performance in the 21st Century, a course that examines new trends in dance, theatre and performance art. In Spring 2008, he will direct Attempts on Her Life, by British playwright Martin Crimp, which he describes as "a piece written about the media and what it does to our way of experiencing reality."

"We really lucked out with Roger," notes Associate Professor of Theater Davis Robinson, who chaired the department of theater and dance from 2002 to 2006. "He is a working artist with an omnivorous intellect and a deep understanding of the historical, social and cultural contexts of dance, theater and performance art. He also brings digital technology into the mix. He strengthens what we're doing and will keep the department moving forward in new and exciting ways."

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