Cheryl Black to be Inducted into the College of Fellows of the American Theatre
From her office on the second floor of the Fine Arts Building, Professor of Theatre Cheryl Black can open the rear panels on the bottom of her wall-to-wall bookshelf and peer out onto the stage of the Rhynsburger Theatre. In fact, her office, now filled with books, scripts and stage props, once belonged to Professor Donovan Rhynsburger, the namesake of MU’s principal theater for dramatic productions. Black jokingly calls Rhynsburger the “Phantom of the Opera,” imagining him sitting in his second-floor office calling stage directions to the students below.
Black recently received word she will be inducted as a fellow of the College of Fellows of the American Theatre. The investiture ceremony will be held at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., in April 2016. Investiture in the college is considered one of the highest honors bestowed on educators and professionals of America’s educational and theater community. The mission of the College of Fellows of the American Theatre is to promote and encourage the highest standards of research, writing, and creativity in educational and professional theater by honoring the service and accomplishments of individuals of recognized national stature.
“I’ve primarily been an Americanist,” Black says, “and this is going to strengthen and deepen my advocacy for it and look for ways to help my students make a mark and really lead the field. Wheels are turning in terms of new courses, so I’ve tried some new things such as introducing a playwriting competition into my theater history class. It’s exactly the sort of project the fellows would encourage because it’s an integration of history and dramaturgy and scholarship and art.”
Black says the roster of current and past members of the College of Fellows is a “who’s who” of many of her heroes, including Larry Clark, former chair of the MU theater department and dean emeritus of the College of Arts and Science, and Weldon Durham, professor emeritus of dramatic literature, criticism and theater history and Middlebush Professor of Humanities. Black says Durham hired her when he was chair of the department and she was a graduate student researching her historical dissertation.
“He’s simply brilliant and he wore that brilliance so lightly…he’s a remarkable model of the artist–scholar,” Black says.
Black says she is still grieving the death of Larry Clark, who died Dec. 24, 2014.
“Larry retired before I came to MU and yet the irony is he became one of my closest colleagues for years and he kept his office here, so I ran into him every day,” she says. “We gave each other American theater history quizzes and took great glee in trying to catch each other out with, you know, who said this line in this play or what musical featured this song…just completely obscure stuff. To follow in their footsteps by being inducted as a fellow means so much.”
Black teaches theater history, acting, dramaturgy, and dramatic literature. She is an actress, playwright, director, and dramaturg. She is the author of The Women of Provincetown, 1915–1922 and has published numerous book chapters and essays. Her latest work, co-written with Jonathan Shandell, is titled Experiments in Democracy: Inter-racial and Cross-cultural Exchange in American Theatre, 1912–1945 and is forthcoming in 2016 from SIU Press. Black is on leave in fall 2015 to complete work onDecades of Modern American Drama: the 1990s, co-written with Sharon Friedman.
Her induction as a fellow of the College of Fellows of the American Theatre is the second such honor Black has received this year. In March, she was named a fellow of the Mid America Theatre Conference, an honor she also shares with her heroes Durham and Clark.
Sitting in her office, it’s easy to imagine Donovan Rhynsburger peering out through the lower bookcase at the stage below and admiring the progress made since he established the Missouri Workshop Theatre after joining the MU faculty in 1925. If the “Phantom of the Opera” is still watching over his beloved theater department, he surely would be proud of Cheryl Black.