Joe Hanreddy’s next act at UWM
For months, talk of Joe Hanreddy landing at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee has circulated in Milwaukee’s theater and academic communities. The rumors are true. Hanreddy, 62, will join UWM’s theater department next fall, soon after he wraps up his 17-year tenure as artistic director of the Milwaukee Repertory Theater.
Hanreddy will teach two undergraduate courses each semester in 2010-2011, but his real work will begin in the fall 0f 2011. At that time, Hanreddy and Rick Graham, a long-time UWM faculty member and a lighting and scenic designer, will welcome their first cohort of up-and-coming directors and designers into a new graduate certificate program.
Four students, two in each field, will enjoy full scholarships and mentoring from Hanreddy and Graham. Hanreddy expects to take the students to theaters around the country, particularly to the Utah and Oregon Shakespeare festivals, when he directs elsewhere. And he intends to get them involved in Milwaukee’s theater scene.
The program will be a conservatory-style certificate, rather like the one granted by the UWM music department to students in the Institute of Chamber Music, and not a master’s degree. Hanreddy and Graham are aiming it at students who want to make a mark in professional theater rather than teach in academia.
“I think I can broker relationships and make connections for the students,” Hanreddy said, in a long interview at Roast Coffee, his East Side home away from home. “I’m in a good position to make things happen. I’ll broker for the students as much as I can here, in Chicago, New York, Oregon, Utah.”
“When I decided to leave The Rep, I had in mind one more creative chapter, with a beginning, middle and end,” he said. “My intention was to teach somewhere and train directors. I felt that coming here might allow me to create something, but it has to have its own financial base.”
UWM in general and the Peck School of the Arts in particular have struggled through difficult times for years, even before the recession. Almost everything has been a zero-sum game. Hanreddy and dean Wade Hobgood believe that this program offers a chance to make some gains. The plan is to cut nothing else to pay for it, but to raise new money. Hanreddy’s connections to theater donors in Milwaukee and his electric personality might make that possible. He intends to be deeply involved in fund-raising.
“The program has to be endowed and my position has to be endowed,” Hanreddy said. “We’re raising money now, and it’s a collective effort.”
“We intend to take advantage of having Joe here,” Hobgood said, in a separate interview. “He can stay as long as he’s interested.”
Hanreddy and Hobgood expect the program to outlive Hanreddy’s participation in it. A dedicated endowment would assure that. Hobgood put the required number at about $3 million, to generate income to fund four fellowships through their two-year cycles and to help pay a prestigious person to attract and train. Hobgood put the cost of the program at $200,000-$250,000 per year.
Hanreddy will not hold a tenure-track position. His official designation will be academic staff. The academic staff/certificate strategy will make for a more nimble and flexible program. Tenure-track jobs and MFA programs have much more bureaucracy and expense attached. Academic staff positions and certificate programs are more discretionary for deans and department chairs.
LeRoy Stoner, the chair of the 200-student theater department, was skeptical at first. He inherited the idea from predecessor Bruce Brockman, who has moved on to the University of Arizona. Brockman and Hobgood first approached Hanreddy about joining UWM.
“It has been my assumption, often borne out, that no one gains around here unless someone loses,” Stoner said. “But I think we can make this a winner for all the stakeholders, including my current colleagues and our students. I weighed this for some time, and I’ve come down strongly in favor. I think the potential for the department and the school is very high. I see a new voice for directing coming in, and directing is not a strong area for us right now.”
The theater department has had a bumpy ride since a high-level faculty departed en masse for the University of Delaware more than 20 years ago. The department gave up its graduate programs years ago and now offers only BAs and BFAs in acting and technical theater, but not in design or directing. The new Fellowships in Design and Directing would bring graduate-student presence in those fields into the department.
“When unanticipated opportunities arise,” Stoner said, “you have to rise to those opportunities.”
This will be a cohort program. That is, four students will arrive, work together for two years and then be replaced by another cohort. The idea is to make a close-knit team that creates productions from the ground up, at UWM and beyond its walls.
“I have a personal interest in designers who talk to directors and understand the concepts,” Graham said. “I don’t like it when designers just show up with pretty pictures. The more I talked with Joe, the more I realized that design is more than just a passing interest for him. We intend to cover all the bases — lighting, scenic, costume — with the people we bring in. We will have the ability to put a team together and see a project through, with our close mentoring. It will be a very attractive program; we should be able to get stars.”
Hanreddy has been teaching part-time at Northwestern University. The program at UWM will allow him to further develop ideas he’s put in practice there.
“The emphasis is on collective process,” Hanreddy said. “It will be an experiential program, not them listening and us teaching. That’s what I enjoyed at Northwestern, and it’s the way things really get done in theater. It’s all personal for me; that’s the nature of what we do. It’s all about feeling simpatico. Theater is a back-and-forth process, a 150 e-mails exchanging ideas, what comes up over dinner.
“They’ll take all their classes together for two years. Rick and I will team teach as much as we can. What we’re really teaching is cooperation. When we select our people, we have to balance them — it’s almost like casting. So you become a little bit of a marriage broker. It’s all about living in that world, that world of the theater you’re trying to create. That’s how it is working in theater; you have your tribe.”