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Campus Closeup: Ansley Valentine

Ansley Valentine (CAPS) was appointed four years ago as director of Forest Roberts Theatre. He may have succeeded a retiree with 32 years of service to NMU whose name graces the black box performance venue, but he quickly made his own mark on the program. Valentine has increased outreach to culturally underserved communities, collaboration with other entities and student opportunities.

Last semester’s “theater for young audiences” class performed two plays for schools throughout the Upper Peninsula. Valentine also assisted Superior Central in putting on its own play. He offered to help with the set, inviting students to campus to tour the theaters, work in the scene shop and paint set pieces before transporting them back to the school.

“We’ve also been trying to forge a greater partnership with Michigan Tech,” he said. “They have a huge sound design program, so we’ve had their students come down here and design sound for our productions. We get the benefit of their expertise and they get the opportunity to work with a client outside of their own faculty. Tech has a lot of technicians, but not a lot of actors. Hopefully we’ll be able to do a co-production with them next year—producing a show here first and then performing up there.”

Valentine has resurrected NMU’s active involvement in the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival. He also supports colleague Kim Hegmegee’s effort to take a large group of students to the U.S. Institute for Theatre Technology’s annual conference in Milwaukee. “We’re trying to increase their exposure to professional opportunities so they realize there are ways to get into the industry beyond going straight to New York City. At the very least, they’re getting the opportunity to network with professionals so they develop connections that can help to jumpstart their careers.”

One aspect of theater NMU students will explore this season is puppetry. These aren’t your grandma’s finger/hand puppets or the muppet variety seen on TV. These are large-form creations popularized by such Broadway productions such as The Lion King. Students will design the dragon puppet for this season’s production of She Kills Monsters. Puppetry is a research area of Valentine’s.

“When I was a starving actor one year, I auditioned for the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra’s A Yuletide Celebration,” Valentine recalls. “We did a puppet version of The Christmas Carol with puppets that were operated from inside and ranged from 10 to 30-feet tall. I worked up to puppet master by the time I left and got into it as a performance art. People are doing interesting things with puppets. You have to think of what you can do with a puppet that you can’t do with a person.”

The Indianapolis native was a theater major and English minor in college. He thought he would create publications for a printing company or PR firm because he had served as chair of a board that oversaw the campus newspaper, yearbook and magazine and had secured related internships. But difficulty finding a job after graduation led him to audition for a Shakespeare company. He became a professional actor for seven years before returning to graduate school for his MFA in directing. Positions at the College of Wooster in Ohio and Kent State followed before he joined the NMU faculty.

Whenever possible, Valentine injects professional development into his career. He joined other NMU faculty on a Middle East study tour, which resulted in the related plays Fallujah and Near East. He also remains active in the Sigma Chi international fraternity and this year received its highest honor: The Order of the Constantine. He is pictured at left above with Indiana Congressman Todd Rokita, a fellow Wabash College alumnus who received the fraternity’s Significant Sig Award.

Valentine directs a youth theater program each summer in Ohio, where he’s also immersed in a “labor of love” restoring a 19th century home. Right after purchasing the house, Valentine adopted a wire-haired terrier named Jack, whose favorite chew toy is a plastic milk jug. He said people are surprised that “someone so laid back would have such a wild dog. He was a holy terror when I first got him.”