This winter break was far from restful for Indiana University of Pennsylvania theater professor Brian Jones, who helped to organize the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival’s regional festival at IUP on Jan. 10-14. For five wintry days, more than 1,000 students, faculty and theater professionals descended on the IUP campus for workshops and seminars in acting, playwriting, staging, scenery, as well as several productions and an acting competition.
This was the second time IUP played host to the regional gathering, which included eight performances chosen from 60 productions entered in the main competition. Of the eight plays selected to be staged, three came from State System universities: IUP (Tammy Ryan’s “Lindsey’s Oyster”), West Chester University (William Inge’s “The Dark at the Top of the Stairs”) and Bloomsburg University (David Auburn’s “Proof”).
To run an event of this size, Professor Jones – who is also the department chair – started preparing more than a year ago. Jones told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, “I like to think of this as part of the American national theater – an incubator for the profession.”
Under Jones’ leadership, this year’s event was certainly a success. Congrats to Professor Jones and all of the APSCUF faculty members that participated in the festival!
Here are five questions with IUP professor Brian Jones:
1. Where are you from? Where did you attend college and graduate school?
I’m originally from that larger “Indiana” with the funny nickname for residents. I’m a Hoosier by birth. There I attended Wabash College receiving a B.A. in Theater. Following that I completed my terminal degree at the University of Florida, receiving an M.F.A. in Theatrical Design and Technical Production.
2. How did you decide to become a professor?
It was because of the excellent modeling by my professors at Wabash College. They were very influential. They groomed me to make that decision during graduate school. By the time I completed my M.F.A. I knew I wanted to make teaching part of my life as an artist. I even petitioned to teach a section of Stagecraft at UF so that I could gain experience.
3. How did you end up at Indiana University of Pennsylvania?
This is my fourth college or university. Before anyone thinks that I just couldn’t hold a job, I WAS tenured and promoted at Weber State University in Ogden, Utah, but it wasn’t the right fit. I moved on to Providence College after that, and finally found IUP when a job was posted on ArtSearch for a scenic and lighting designer. I remembered that Barb Blackledge and Ed Simpson had moved to IUP, where they were making theatre in an old gymnasium. They had been guest artists at Wabash College when I was a student. I almost didn’t apply because at that stage of my career I was done with those kinds of hardships. I found out that there had been this wonderful, multi-million dollar renovation of Waller Hall in 1988 to turn it into an excellent theater facility! I was selected out of a search in 1995.
4. What’s your favorite thing about being a professor at IUP?
It’s been the best experience of my career, mostly because of the teacher/scholar emphasis, or in the case of the College of Fine Arts, teacher/artist. IUP offers great support for teaching and learning, as well as expectations and rewards for professional growth and development. My favorite thing about being a professor is the opportunity, in fact the encouragement, to be a teacher/artist.
5. Why did you decide to join APSCUF?
I was reticent. I didn’t join APSCUF my first year. I didn’t appreciate the union having an automatic access to dues out of my paycheck. Then I had a good long talk with an APSCUF member, I think it was Bob Begg but I don’t really recall. He described how the union had made such an impact on IUP and the quality of the institution. He also explained how being a member gave me a voice. I’m VERY glad I made the decision.