Pioneer Spotlight: Dr. David Schuler
Dr. David Schuler, associate professor of theatre and theatre area coordinator at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville, has been with the university since 2006.
A Pennsylvania native, Schuler received his bachelor’s degree in music education and voice performance from Susquehanna University in Selinsgrove, Pennsylvania before moving on to receive his master’s in theatre from Binghamton University in Binghamton, New York and his Ph.D. in theatre from the University of Colorado-Boulder in Boulder, Colorado.
Schuler teaches multiple classes at UW-Platteville, including Acting, Dramatic Literature, Gay and Lesbian Drama and Dialect Coaching. He also directs Pioneer Players and musical theatre productions and has been involved in over 40 productions throughout his life.
You’re originally from Pennsylvania, what brought you to UW-Platteville?
I was applying for jobs at a time where there were not a lot of jobs open, but an awful lot of Ph.Ds in theatre sort of flooding the market. When this job came open, not surprisingly I was from the East Coast so my first thought was, ‘Where is Platteville?’ When I came though, the one thing that really attracted me to this position was that the program was at a place where it needed to be rebuilt, and someone had to come in and reinvision what the theatre program here needed to be, and you rarely get that opportunity. Dr. Ann Farrelly, who applied the same time I did, and I had the opportunity to really create a program in our own vision – what we thought a strong, small theatre program could and should be. It’s been fantastic to see how that’s evolved over the 10 years that I’ve been here.
You’ve played multiple roles in theatre throughout your life, including director and actor, what is your favorite role in theatre and why?
I started out in theatre as an actor. I’ve performed 40 something shows throughout the years and I think one of the most important acting roles I did was the one here just a few years ago, where I played Tevye in "Fiddler on the Roof" for the Heartland Festival. I hadn’t been on the stage nor acted in 10 years and I hadn’t done a musical in 12 years, but I’d been teaching the upper level acting classes since I’ve been here and I think it was so important for me because it reminded me what the actor’s job was and what responsibilities they had. It made me a better acting teacher and a better director having done that, because it reminded me of how I needed to talk to actors and how I could better help young actors perform at the level they needed to perform at. Now, if I don’t step on the stage again in my life, I’d be OK. I love directing, I absolutely love directing. Part of it is because ultimately all of the responsibility rests on the director. If the audience doesn’t like something then all of that responsibility is mine in this case, and for some strange reason I like that pressure. But I also like seeing how your vision comes together in the end with the costumes and the sound and the lights, especially in a university situation. The students are so enthusiastic and so committed and it’s just exciting to see how they grow and develop.
What qualities do your students possess that have impressed you the most throughout your time at UW-Platteville?
It’s the time commitment that is really tremendous. We rehearse five days a week with 10 hours days on tech weekends and the students never blink an eye. We expect our theatre and music students to be involved, but it’s the students from BILSA in agriculture or students from engineering or biology– majors outside of music and theatre – that put in countless hours as well. They could take it for a little credit, but most of them don’t take it for credit. Most of them do it because they love it; they’ve done it in high school and they want to continue to do it. The students here are able to be pushed harder, and what’s most rewarding now is how hard we can push them and we know they won’t break. We also have very open communication with the students, which is important. Every day we ask our students to take risks, and they’re willing to take risks because we’re there to support them. Whether they’re risking and succeeding or risking and failing, we’ll be there and they know that. They’re also just really nice people. The students here fall on the end of the spectrum where they will go out of their way to be considerate and nice to people. They’re just good human beings. It’s really easy to come to work here.
You’re retiring at the end of the semester after 29 years in the theatre world, what things stand out to you the most throughout your 10 years at UW-Platteville?
When you get bitten by the theatre bug, there is nothing you can do about it. There is absolutely no cure for that, and that’s what happened. The quality of our productions here have improved and increased dramatically over the last five years, and that’s a tremendous testament to my colleagues and the students. They understand what our expectation of them is and it’s getting higher and more intense. What we tell them is that hard work pays off, and I think they’re seeing that. To see our students take on more responsibility and more initiative has been so rewarding, and that takes time. Ten years isn’t that long in the scheme of things when I think about where the program was when Ann [Farrelly] and I first started working here, it’s a completely different animal. That goes back to collaboration, and we couldn’t have done it without the students and their commitment. I don’t want to make it sound like we don’t have fun, because we do, otherwise we wouldn’t be doing it. But it’s all of that; it’s the collegiality and the collaboration that we have with the students.
What are your plans for retirement?
I want to keep my hand in theatre, I know I definitely want to continue to direct. My wife’s family lives near our house in upstate New York and I still have family in Pennsylvania so we will be moving back out there to be closer to family. Strangely enough, there are multiple colleges in the area we’re going back to, and there’s a level of satisfaction that you get from working with college students that you don’t get with professionals. Professionals bring a lot more to the table, understandably because they’ve been doing it longer. But the reward comes in watching the students succeed and improve their skills and figure something out. Hopefully that makes what they do easier or more enjoyable. So my sense is that I’m going to stay connected with colleges, because I like this age group a lot.
One of the reasons I wanted to take advantage of this retirement opportunity is because when I’m involved in rehearsals, I don’t see my wife much. I would like to have a more flexible schedule and spend time with her – to be able to travel and go to foreign films in the afternoon and catch an early dinner or something after that. Also, so we can absolutely spend more time with our families, as they’re getting older as well. My wife has a large family that we want to spend more time with, and this is a way to do it, by giving myself a more flexible schedule. We’ll see, because I still have a lot of passion and energy for what I love to do, so we’ll see how that all plays out.
Interview conducted by Carly Willman, UW-Platteville University Information and Communications. To nominate someone for the Pioneer Spotlight, email firstname.lastname@example.org.