Pioneer Spotlight: Dr. Ann Dillon Farrelly

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Pioneer Spotlight
Dr. Ann Dillon Farrelly
February 20, 2015

Dr. Ann Dillon Farrelly, associate professor of theatre and artistic director of the Heartland Festival at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville, has been at the university since 2006. She currently teaches courses in acting, directing, introduction to theatre, critical theory, dramatic literature, Irish drama and theatre history. Dillon Farrelly received a Bachelor of Arts in English and theatre and a Master of Arts in English from the University of Dayton in Dayton, Ohio, and a Ph.D. in theatre from Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio.

Why did you decide to go into theatre/directing?

I have been involved in theatre most of my life, from a young age. I decided to make it a career choice while in college. Directing was the area in which I felt the most at home. I directed my first production as a student in 1994. I’ve been hooked ever since.

What do you most enjoy about teaching your courses?

I love introducing my students to the many facets of theatre. Theatre is a very diverse discipline and requires that the students know about many different things. It is history, philosophy, literature and design. It requires them to think critically, problem solve and learn to work collaboratively. 

What qualities do your students possess that have impressed you most?

I am always impressed not only by their talents but by their abilities to work hard. Theatre is hard, and they learn very quickly that it demands much from them. I am always proud of what they are able to accomplish every year. If you want to see what I mean, just attend one of our productions.

What qualities are essential to possess if you are directing theatre?

Patience, determination, obsessive attention to detail, vision and an ability to solve complex problems quickly. It is essential that a director be a strong leader. I am also convinced that a director needs to be compassionate with a good sense of humor. Nothing is more humbling than working on a theatre production; there is no room for ego in the theatre. 

Looking ahead, what are you most looking forward to directing?

I am always most looking forward to the thing right in front of me. In this case, it is the spring musical, “Company,” which opens April 8. Working with scenic designer Jeffrey Strange and costume designer Sarah Strange, as well as student lighting designer Danny McMullen, I think we’ve come up with a fun and interesting concept for this Sondheim classic.

How do the plays you direct make your job interesting and challenging?

Every play or musical I direct presents me with an exciting challenge. Because we have great freedom to select the plays we will direct every season, I always select plays that not only interest me, but will provide the necessary challenges to not only me but also the students and designers.

What is your philosophy on the profession of directing?

A director provides the unifying vision, but theatre is truly a collaboration. My job is to give us a place to start – an idea – but it is also to listen to the ideas of my design team and my actors. I always want to find a way to do something fresh and new with every production. I like to think of myself more as a guiding force than anything else. I am here to encourage others to do their best work. A good director knows where she’s going, but isn’t afraid to take a detour when necessary. Theatre works only when everyone is at her or his creative and inspired best.

What is essential for a production to be successful?

A good team of smart people who are organized, flexible and always striving to do the best work they can do. Also, the truly great productions involve ingenuity, innovation and courage. Lots of courage.

What is most challenging and rewarding about the collaboration that takes place between director, assistant director, scenic designer, costume designer, lighting designer, choreographer and musical director?

The most challenging part of collaboration is realizing that you do not have a monopoly on great ideas. Once you get over that notion, the collaboration is the most fun and inspiring part of the whole process.

How do you think performing in theatre helps prepare students for their careers and life?

Theatre makes students better thinkers, better collaborators. They are more confident, more innovative and more creative. Theatre allows students to experience a project from inception to strike, and it teaches them how to work as a team. They also learn to do all the jobs; they are actors, directors, stage managers, designers, board ops and running crew members. These students are highly employable. And even for those who are non-majors, the life skills they learn through theatre are invaluable. The skills translate across a wide range of disciplines. I know many people think of theatre as a hobby, but make no mistake – it is some of the most difficult and rewarding work one could ever do.

Interview conducted by Laurie Hamer, College of Liberal Arts and Education. To nominate someone for the Pioneer Spotlight, contact


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