Theater’s enduring soul

Despite budget cuts and staffing changes, the heads of the Hamline Theatre and Dance Department have high hopes for this year—and big plans.


Andrea Lindner
Hamline Theatre and Dance prepares for an eventful fall semester in spite of staff changes and other challenges faced by the department.

Robin Doyscher, Senior Reporter

Hamline’s Theatre and Dance Department has faced numerous shake ups over the years, but the current 2021-2022 school year has brought a lot of personnel and direction changes. The Oracle reached out to department chair, Jeff Turner, and program director, Kaori Kenmotsu, to learn about the various plans for productions and adjustments. 

The first major change was the retirement of Bill Wallace, the production manager and former chair of the department. Turner has since worked to reshape the department with the absence of Wallace. 

“I think he initially announced that he would retire in May 2022. And then in October of 2020, he decided that he would retire a year early,” Turner said. “So that kind of threw us for a little bit of a twist.” 

Turner elaborated on how the change has brought about some challenges when it comes to hiring new faculty. 

“The concern that certainly we are grappling with is that the administration did not give us permission to kind of start a new hire to be able to hire a design faculty. And, you know, theater programs basically… require a design faculty member,” Turner said.

The current theater scene in the Twin Cities has many personnel whom the department has acquired as guest choreographers and artists. Turner explained that the metropolitan aspect of the Midway area has brought a lot of new blood into the department to help fill the gaps. 

“Luckily, we live in the Twin Cities. And we have access to teaching artists and working artists and professional theater artists, who we are able to bring in and provide really wonderful opportunities for our students to learn from working professionals, as well as getting that kind of variety of perspectives and points of view,” Turner said. 

Such guests include Lisa Imbryk, a freelance costume designer and a Hamline alumni with an MFA in costume design. Imbryk has worked with various museums in the Twin Cities. Another new recruit, Justin Thomas, is an academic from Iowa who has worked as a professional lighting designer in larger regional theaters.

Kenmotsu, current senior lecturer and notably the lead choreographer and instructor of Hamline Dance Ensemble, expressed a lot of enthusiasm for the current year despite the losses the department has faced. 

“I think we service a lot of students through our production. With the dance ensemble and the dance program, we serve a lot of students who are not necessarily majoring in theater and dance, but we give them opportunities for artistic work,” Kenmotsu said. 

Kenmotsu also stressed the importance of dance as an artistic medium, and the amount of creative freedom the students acquire as essential for its function. 

“I think of it more as a co-op, rather than a collective, rather than me as the artistic director, and I direct everything. I see it as a partnership with the students to say, who wants to develop work, how can I support you?” Kenmotsu said. 

Kenmotsu announced that new creative partnerships will also involve several Hamline alumni.

”We had so many amazing artists that had graduated from the ensemble, and then they go, for three or four years, into the world and do their own thing. What would happen if we were able to bring in three former company members and pay them?” Kenmotsu said.  ”We actually create a partnership, and a bridge with former company members and current company members. So like this year, I’m bringing in Mario Ochoa, Kaemella Foster and Sariah Darvillier. They graduated last year, and the year before.” 

Hamline’s Theatre and Dance Department, despite various setbacks, plans to return this year with many large-scale productions from both the dance ensemble and its theater, including Our Town, which will likely be shown in November. Between the new students and new staff, 2021 may prove to be an invigorating year for the Hamline arts programs.