Taking off the Gloves (continued)

“Every act of theatre envisions another world,” says Prof. Bredeson, a specialist in French drama, standing at the West entrance of the new Performing Arts Building.  Photo by Leah Nash

She went on to get her MFA and PhD at Yale School of Drama, and to win a Fulbright in Paris, where she lived for almost three years. As part of a Killam postdoctorate fellowship at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Bredeson taught for two years in the theatre department there. Before coming to Reed, she lectured in the theatre and performance studies program at the University of Chicago and was resident dramaturg in their professional on-campus Court Theatre.

“There is no one-sentence answer to what dramaturgy is,” says Bredeson. “If someone wants one, I’ll say it’s the art of collaboration.”

The collaboration can be with either the playwright or director, and the job is not to say what should happen, but figure out what the play wants to be. A stand-in for the audience and advocate for the play, the dramaturg brings to the enterprise a vast knowledge of theatre history and how theatre works as an industry.

Bredeson keeps a hand in both academic and professional theatre circles. She was the dramaturg for the recent Portland Playhouse productions of Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson and Detroit. 

In addition, she regularly presents scholarly work as a theatre historian and contributes to various publications, including chapters in four different books, one about the Living Theatre and the Bread and Puppet Theater for a book about avant-garde theatre of the ’60s; another about French women stage directors for the book International Women Stage Directors; a chapter on French dramaturgy for a book on dramaturgy; and one on the occupation of the Odéon theatre and the revolutionary culture of the French stage for a collection rethinking the events of May ‘68.

A specialist in French theatre, Bredeson confesses that she feels more at home in Paris than anywhere else in the world. She is at work on a book, tentatively titled Occupying the Stage: Theatre of May ’68, about the student revolt in France when eight million workers went out on a strike that nearly toppled the government. “One of the significant things about May ’68 is its scale,” she says. “A mass of people effectively shut down large parts of the country for up to six weeks in some spirit of resistance. It was a theatrical action; it was enormous. And it also ties into theatre because it becomes about community and collective work.”

Theatre majors are required to take Bredeson’s two-semester theatre history class, which begins in ancient Greece and proceeds to the present. In addition, she teaches playwriting, dramaturgy, a course on gender and performance, and directs one production a year.

In November she directed Thornton Wilder’s Our Town, the first production to be staged in Reed’s new Diver Theatre. Wilder’s stage directions call for “no scenery,” which brilliantly showcased the new space.

While students benefit from Bredeson’s connections in the theatre community, more than anything else they appreciate her passion and infectious enthusiasm.

“Whenever I think of Kate teaching,” says Cora Walters ’13, “I always see her smiling. She seemed to really believe in what she was doing and be excited by it. All of the professors at Reed are very intelligent, of course. But it’s not clear sometimes that they really love what they do—and that is always very visible with Kate.”

Finocchiaro lauds Bredeson for constantly challenging her students to consider how they can apply what they have learned, or move forward in their art form upon graduation. “Her advice has been key to my ability to succeed in the theatrical world outside of a classroom or academic setting.”

Bredeson enjoys the conference model of teaching and fosters collaboration both in the classroom and in the rehearsal room because “being able to work collaboratively is the thing that gives back most in the world.”

Asked why theatre is relevant, she doesn’t miss a beat. “Every act of theatre envisions another world,” she says, “and if you’re putting a different world onstage, by definition you believe in the possibility of other worlds.”

Kate Bredeson believes in other worlds, and is in the enterprise of creating them, one student at a time.