David Jaffe is about to close the curtains on his time as the Frank B. Weeks Visiting Professor of Theater and head to Connecticut College, where he will be Chair of the Theater Department. Over the past five years, Jaffe has taught several Acting I classes, as well as higher level acting courses and the popular First Year Initiative (FYI) American Playwrights Performed. Last fall, he directed a visceral adaptation of “Richard III,” which sold out multiple shows. Other directing credits include Charles Mee’s “Big Love,” a piece performed at Russell House called, “The Vanya Project,” and Ariela Rotenberg’s ’10 thesis project, “Our Day Will Come.” Before he takes his final bow at Wesleyan, he sat down with The Argus to discuss his career and thoughts about the transition.
The Argus: How do you feel about this being your last term at Wesleyan?
David Jaffe: I have to say that while I am very excited by my new job, leaving Wes is bittersweet. Overall, it has been an incredibly inspirational five years. I’ve met great colleagues, I’ve worked with truly bright and curious students, and they have energized every minute in the classroom, studio, or rehearsal room. Over my career I’ve had opportunities to work with students from colleges all over the country, and you Wesleyan people–now don’t go crazy here–but as a rule, you all are a special lot.
A: What are some of your best Wesleyan memories?
DJ: There is not enough column space in the Argus. I’ve taught 23 classes here and I remember moments from every one. In an acting class just today we were working to unpack a key moment in a scene and find the detail in the text that would support the strongest choice, and I heard a line in a different way than I ever have before. A new meaning was discovered right before my eyes. That’s good stuff, right?
A: What kind of work did you do before coming to Wesleyan?
DJ: I found my way into theater and acting toward the end of my college time. A couple of years later I went to the Yale School of Drama for an MFA in Acting. After five years or so of professional work in and out of New York, I had a chance to teach at a college for a year, and for some reason I went for it. In my mind, it was a sabbatical from New York and the acting business, which, to be honest, was not truly fulfilling. During that year in the studio, teaching, discovering moments, struggling to communicate the hows and whys of making theater, I felt much more connected to what I was in love with about theater than when I was in New York auditioning for Sprite commercials and soap operas.
So, my life took a different direction than I would have expected. I’ve been working in various ways with undergrad and post-grad theater folk ever since. For eight years, I was the director of the National Theater Institute at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center. It’s a semester-away program for theater study. The 32-student company is immersed in theater training 7 days a week for 14 weeks. They study acting, directing, voice, movement, playwriting, design, etc. The students travel to St. Petersburg, Russia, or London for two weeks, just to live in the theater-making world. We also operated the Moscow Art Theater Semester where undergrads can study in Moscow for a semester, and I created the O’Neill Theatermakers Summer Intensive where you can get two course credits for training and developing new work during the National Playwrights Conference at the O’Neill Center.
A: How did you end up teaching here?
DJ: I had been running the National Theater Institute for eight years and I was looking to return to the college or university setting for some very practical reasons. There was a part-time opening and I came in to teach three courses my first year, 2006-07. The position was expanded to a full time visitor for the next year, 2007-08.
A: Where are you going to be teaching in the fall?
DJ: I will be chairing the Theater Department at Connecticut College down in New London. My home is near there, and there is a lot of support for building the department. It is a challenge I am looking forward to.