Phil Gates '08

Philip Gates

Phil Gates '08

Major: English and Theater Interdisciplinary Major
Hometown: Shaker Heights, Ohio

Why did you choose to come to Bowdoin?
What really convinced me that Bowdoin was the place to be was the amazing sense of community that I felt here. All schools tell you they have that, but at Bowdoin I felt that sense of being part of a community even before I definitely decided to come here. When I visited, students were friendly and helpful as I wandered blindly, trying to find my way around campus. I sat in on a class and the professor actually invited me to his office to chat afterwards, which didn't happen at any classes I sat in on at other schools. Another professor contacted me to see if I had any questions about Bowdoin, even though she was on leave that semester. I thought, if I feel so welcomed and at home now, I'll feel even more at home if I go to school here. And I do!

Why did you choose your major?
Theater was one of my passions in high school, but I had never thought of it as something I could really study in college; I assumed it would be something fun on the side to distract me from my "serious" class work. Then, in my first semester here, I took Theater 101: Making Theater, and completely fell in love with the class, the instructor (Professor Libby Marcus), and the idea that theater was actually something worth studying, and studying "seriously" at that. Since there is no theater major at Bowdoin, I decided that the interdisciplinary major in English and theater would be the next best thing. As it turns out, I've loved all the classes I've taken for the English half of my major as well as the theater half, so the whole interdisciplinary idea has worked out wonderfully.

What has been a course you especially enjoyed at Bowdoin?
Currently, I'm taking Introduction to Gay and Lesbian Studies with Professor Peter Coviello, and it is no exaggeration to say that, just halfway through the semester, this class has already changed the way I think. This sounds like a cliché, but I don't say it lightly. The readings and discussions we've had on queer issues have made me look at gender, sexuality, and my own identity in an entirely new way. Professor Coviello's energy is infectious and the whole class gets drawn into discussions in which all kinds of ideas are flying around. When talking about something like sexuality, people are bound to disagree, but even when they do, everyone remains not only respectful but eager to understand other points of view. Even outside of class I frequently get into heated discussions with my roommates or anyone who will listen about what I've read or talked about in class ... there is just that much to think about.

What professor or professors have especially inspired you during your time at Bowdoin?
There have been so many, but a few in particular stand out. First of all, Sonja Moser in the theater department has been an invaluable teacher in many different capacities — as a professor, as a director, and as an advisor and mentor. Her Directing class, which I took the fall of my sophomore year, opened my eyes to different ways of creating theater, and has profoundly affected the work I've done onstage ever since. One of Professor Moser's great gifts is the ability to help her students and her actors find in themselves things that they didn't know how to express or didn't even know were there. The ability to surprise yourself (and the willingness to let yourself be surprised) is absolutely key to making great theater, something I've learned from Professor Moser both directly from working with her, and indirectly through watching plays she's directed.

Also in the theater department, Davis Robinson is a huge part of why I am involved with theater at Bowdoin. He directed me in my first show here, which was Angels in America: Millennium Approaches, at the beginning of my freshman year. I was terrified: I'd just arrived at Bowdoin and suddenly I was in this huge and difficult play, tackling a character more complex than anything I'd ever done before. Professor Robinson's guidance and faith in me gave me confidence and made that show one of the most unforgettable experiences I've ever had. He is truly invested in his students, and his own work is an inspiration as well.

Professor Tricia Welsch in the film studies department was one of the first professors I had at Bowdoin and is one of the very best. She is incredibly articulate and knowledgeable in her field. She was also my pre-major advisor and it was an enormous help having someone so on top of things to keep me on track!

I cannot end without mentioning Aviva Briefel, who is responsible for my falling in love with Victorian literature, something I would never have predicted before it happened.

Have you engaged in any independent research while at Bowdoin?
I'm deeply involved in an independent study right now — I'm directing a production of Six Characters in Search of an Author by Luigi Pirandello, which will be performed in Wish Theater on November 8 and 9. I've directed before: a 20-minute piece as part of the Directing class two years ago, and I was assistant director for The Skin of Our Teeth last fall. But as my first time flying solo on a full-length production, this is by far my biggest project yet! It's scary, overwhelming, and completely thrilling. I love it.

What extracurricular or work experiences have you had at Bowdoin?
Because I seem to be utterly unable to tear myself away from the theater, I've been on the board of Masque and Gown (Bowdoin's only student theater organization) for three years — as vice president, artistic director, and now as president. The administrative and logistical side of producing plays is a whole different world from what you see on stage, from selecting plays to buying lumber.

I've also been involved with BQSA (Bowdoin Queer Straight Alliance) since my sophomore year. In addition to the fact that meetings and events like our annual Drag Ball are always a blast, being part of a visible queer presence on campus is very important to me.

Since the second semester of my freshman year, I've worked at the information desk in David Saul Smith Union, and this year I'm the student manager there. A lot of prospective students and community members come by with questions about events or to ask directions, and it's great being a kind of ambassador between Bowdoin and the community in this way. I also love working with the staff of the activities office. They are all warm and friendly people, which makes it a great atmosphere to work in.

Did you study abroad during your time at Bowdoin?
I was in London the spring semester of my junior year, studying acting at the British American Drama Academy. It was a great program, but what I think will stay with me most about my time abroad is the more general experience of being in a new place and adapting to the culture there. Living in London required me to be so much more independent than I've ever had to be before, and I discovered I loved the feeling. I also completely fell in love with the city — the history, the arts, the nightlife ... even the public transportation! I really think everyone should study abroad if your major/academic requirements allow it; as fantastic as Bowdoin is, it's great to have a new perspective for a while.

What have you done during your summers?
The summer after my freshman year I spent a few weeks attempting to refurbish the deck on my house. Although it ultimately turned out fine, I don't think my family is going to be asking for my home repair skills again anytime soon....

Two summers ago I was an apprentice with New York Stage & Film at the Powerhouse Theater, located on the Vassar campus. I got to take classes, perform, see workshops of new plays, and even do a couple readings of plays in development with the playwrights themselves. It was a great introduction to how a professional theater company works.

I spent this past summer living in the tiny village of Islesford on Little Cranberry Island, which is just offshore of Mount Desert Island in Maine. It's about three hours north of Bowdoin. I was collaborating with Professor Moser, who lives there and was starting an annual summer event called the Islesford Theater Project. As the first production, she directed The Glass Menagerie in August, which I was privileged to act in along with Kathleen Lewis '10 and two professional actors. It was an amazing experience — being able to work exclusively on a show without worrying about classes or anything else! If all goes according to plan, I will be back there next summer and hopefully many summers in the future!

What is your best Bowdoin memory?
It's impossible to choose just one, there are so many things that are memorable for so many different reasons....

Playing pranks on my freshman year proctor (all out of love, of course) will always rank high on the list. Also trips off campus with friends: to Popham Beach, the Coastal Studies Center, Portland, Freeport, random diners, and other places. One of my favorite local discoveries was when my friends and I found the Desert of Maine in Freeport. (You didn't know Maine had a desert, did you?)

Also late-night conversations about all manner of things, impromptu dance parties, power outages, spontaneous snowball fights, birthday celebrations, stargazing, Super Snacks, cast dinners....

And many of my best memories are of just walking across the Quad, soaking in the beauty of campus. I think autumn is the most beautiful time of year here, so these days my walks across campus are particularly bittersweet, knowing this is my last fall here.

What are your plans for after graduation?
I know I want to go into theater professionally, probably as a director. More specifically than that it's hard to say, but I'll most likely go to grad school to get my MFA in a few years, and in the intervening time I'll be living the life of a starving artist....

What advice would you give to a prospective student or first-year about the Bowdoin experience?
Get really involved on campus and take advantage of all the opportunities here, but make sure you go off campus (and Cote's Ice Cream and Bart & Greg's DVD Explosion don't count) once in a while to remind yourself that there is a world beyond Bowdoin!

Story posted on October 22, 2007

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