Diane Timmerman, Chair of Butler Theatre, likes to say that “storytelling in a group”—theatre—“is as old as human beings are.”
Butler Theatre is not quite that old, but this year, the department turns 75. Theatre performances at Butler have been around far longer than that, but since 1947, students have been able to formally study theatre and earn what Timmerman calls “the most practical degree at the University.”
“You have to be a self-starter and self-motivated and work solo,” she says. “You have to be able to work as a team. You have to be able to lead. You have to be able to make something out of nothing because people are going to pay money and be there on a Friday night at 8:00 PM—so there’d better be something.
“Theatre is about taking time, money, space, people, and ideas and making something out of it—and that describes just about every career there is. Creative, smart problem-solvers who can get the job done—that’s a Theatre major. The art is irreplaceable, and the practical side of theatre is just unbeatable.”
Over the years, Butler Theatre has educated stage, TV and film actors, directors, producers, playwrights, drama therapists, and even the occasional lawyer. People like Jonah Winston ’08 who is starring as Col. Mustard in Mercury Theatre Chicago’s production of Clue. (His wife, Amanda ’11, whom he met at Butler, is in the current Remy Bumppo Theatre Company production of Routes, directed by Mikael Burke ’09.)
And Molly Gray ’09, a Los Angeles-based actress/producer/ writer whose credits include Inside Amy Schumer and the independent film 86 My Life, which she wrote and starred in.
And Raphael Schwartzman ’11, who worked in theatre until he hurt his back and now runs an online coaching community for marketing strategists, cmox.co. Classmate Amanda Winston introduced him to his current boss, who told him, “I don’t know what help I need, but I need help.”
“That’s what we do in theatre,” says Schwartzman, who lives in Philadelphia. “We figure out what needs to go onstage and work with the team to make it so. If I hadn’t had theatre training, I don’t think I would have felt confident enough to do this.”
All say that at Butler, they developed lifelong friendships and relationships with faculty and classmates and received a well-rounded education that prepared them for the future.
“Butler is one big reason I haven’t gone to grad school,” Gray says. “I’m out here by USC and UCLA and a bunch of great schools. Five, six years ago, a lot of my peers who didn’t have the same training were like, ‘I need more. The undergrad degree isn’t really doing it for me.’ But I’ve always had that training. I feel like I have the tools. What I learned at Butler has really served me well.”
To celebrate Butler Theatre’s 75th anniversary, the department held a dinner, a tailgate event, workshops, tours, reception, and rehearsal visits during homecoming. It’s digitizing its papers, posters, and more for an online, searchable archive, and it put up displays in the Irwin Library lobby of costumes, photos, and programs. In addition, all tickets for this year’s season are free.
“Theatre really shows us what it means to be human,” Timmerman says. “We learn about ourselves, we empathize with other people. There are so many things that theatre does for us as individuals and does for our society that the relevance and the need for it can’t be understated.”