John Taylor, Ph.D.

Director of Theatre
Co-Chair, Dept. of Art and Theatre
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I am Dr. John H. Taylor (The Ohio State University, 1994) and I serve as Co-Chair of the Department of Art and Theatre and as Director of Theatre at Adams State University. I teach a variety of courses including Introduction to Theatre, Acting, Women and Drama, Classical Theatre, Modern Theatre, Contemporary Theatre, Dramatic Theory and Criticism, Theatre and Social Change, Censorship and the Arts, and Performance Art.

Art matters and theatre can have a real and lasting impact.  In my work, one of my goals is to explore the ways in which theatre can be a catalyst for community engagement.  The classroom and the stage should be at the forefront of efforts to examine our personal beliefs and the major societal issues of the day.  Both can be places where injustice, ignorance, and the prejudices of the past can be exposed and new understandings of the human experience explored.  Most importantly, each can be a site where a multiplicity of voices can be heard in discourse.

Since joining our faculty in 1999, the focus of my creative work has been to explore the ways in which theatre can be a catalyst for social justice and community engagement. Working with my students, we’ve created a variety of issue-oriented theatre events including enGENDERing Change: The ASU Gender Theatre Project (gender equity and activism), Of Words and Walls: The Anne Frank Theatre Project (learning from the past), The ASU Ghost Light Project (inclusion and diversity), Standing Strong: The ASU Equality Project (marriage equality), The R&J Project (forgiveness and reconciliation) , The ASC Fahrenheit 451 Project (1st Amendment), the 365 Days/365 Plays project (new works), the ASC Dead Man Walking Theatre Project (death penalty), and The Laramie Project (homophobia and hate crimes).

At Adams State, I have directed many productions including A Doll’s House, Part 2, Noises Off, The Diary of Anne Frank, You Can’t Take It With You, Standing on Ceremony: The Gay Marriage Plays, Romeo and Juliet, True West, A Doll’s House, A Christmas Carol, Nickel and Dimed, Miracle on 34th Street, Children of a Lesser God, It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play, and The Outsiders.

A portion of Standing on Ceremony: The Gay Marriage Plays was selected to be performed at the 2016 Kennedy Center/American College Theatre Festival in Denver.

At Adams State University, our Theatre program practices the art of making a difference. We believe education and theatre should facilitate engagement and transformation. From the classics to new works, comedy improv to social change theatre, our students are challenged to explore theatre in its various forms in order to gain a more expansive understanding of what it is they study and what they can do with their careers. If you are interested in studying theatre with us at ASU, please contact me at

Jenna Neilsen, MFA

Professor of Theatre
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My name is Jenna Neilsen, and I am an Associate Professor of Theatre at Adams State University. I received my BA from Ohio Northern University and my MFA in theatre pedagogy from Virginia Commonwealth University. I teach all levels of acting, voice, movement, costume design and construction, and business of theatre here at Adams State.

Every year that I spend working with actors and theatre creators I become more acutely aware of the reason why I was drawn to theatre in the first place. Theatre creates empathy in a world where we are often told that compassion for others is dying. You cannot judge another person if you are going to become them, as an actor must. We tell stories which invite our audience on an empathic journey with us… and we all come out of the production more compassionate and more ready to help our fellow man. THAT is why theatre was and forever will be crucial to the human experience.

Before coming to Adams State, I acted and directed in theaters in the Midwest and Mid-Atlantic and studied acting at Queen Margaret University College, a leading conservatory in Edinburgh, Scotland. I have presented my research in both theatre pedagogy and theatre history nationally at the South Eastern Theatre Conference, the Mid-America Theatre Conference and the Association of Theatre in Higher Education Conference. My work, Captive Audience: Theatre Presentations at Johnson’s Island Federal Prison Camp, is published as a chapter in the anthology Enacting Nationhood; Identity, Ideology and the Theatre, published by Cambridge Scholars Press.

I have studied professionally with Second City Chicago and internationally recognized improvisation teacher Keith Johnstone. I mentor ASU’s student-led improv troupe, The Lost and Found, which performs both on campus and throughout the region. I do not teach improv to train budding comedians (though we have several former ASU students who are now professionally pursuing careers in stand-up, improvisation, and sketch writing around the country). I firmly believe that the skills which are learned in improvisational acting (honesty, active listening, and trust to name a few) are the same skills which when applied to scripted material are the foundation of good acting.

I have directed many productions during my time at Adams State, each time choosing a show which will complement the other offerings of the program and simultaneously challenge our students. Some of the works I have directed include Bright Ideas, Alice in Wonderland, Two Rooms, A Flea in Her Ear, Robin Hood, Getting Out, Marat/Sade, and The Snow Queen. I also performed the one-woman show, My Name is Rachel Corrie and as Lady Croom in Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia.

Welcome to Adams State University Theatre. We would be happy to have you join our “family” where we know that our art is making a positive difference in our students, our community, and our world.

David GerkeDavid Gerke, MFA

Assistant Professor Speech/Theater
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I am Assistant Professor David Gerke (MFA, University of Hawaii at Manoa, 2011), and I serve as Technical Director and instructor of Design and Technical Theatre at Adams State University. I oversee the technical operations of ASU’s theatre productions and facilities, mentoring students in the areas of scenic design & construction, stage lighting, projection, sound, and stage & theatre management. I teach a variety of courses in Design and Technical Theatre, with the goal of providing a general knowledge and experience of all aspects of technical theatre, and the opportunity to specialize in one or more Design/Tech fields.

I believe that art creates community. Moreover, I believe that the art of theatre emphasizes the skills of communication, collaboration, and creative thinking; which are needed in our increasingly interconnected world. For me, theatre is not only an avenue to entertain, but to come together as a community to share in something—whether laughter or tears, the revered or the reviled, the benign or the bizarre. What I love most about my education and career as a designer and technician is the opportunity to work with people of diverse backgrounds, experiences, and cultures to share ideas, find common ground, encourage empathy, and ultimately create a work of art that would have been impossible through individual effort alone.

Before joining the Adams State community, I severed as Technical Director & Resident Designer at Honolulu Theatre for Youth. Based on the island of Oahu, HTY serves an annual audience of over 90,000 through six to nine productions per season, specializing in new & company created work focused on the needs and dreams of Hawaii’s youth, with annual touring productions visiting neighbor islands. Prior to working with HTY, I earned an MFA from The University of Hawaii at Manoa, where I held a Graduate assistantship working in the UHM scenic and lighting shops. I completed my undergraduate degree at Carroll College in Helena, Montana, where I studied not only design and tech, but acting, directing, and improv as well.

George McConnell Ph.DGeorge McConnell, Ph.D.

I am Dr. George McConnell (he/him/his) and I am an Assistant Professor of Theatre at Adams State University. I am a theatre artist, educator, and scholar. I am fully committed to exploring and activating the etymological root that theatre and theory share—theatre as a seeing place and theory as ways of seeing. I believe that theatre is a set of creative and critical practices that allow us to collaboratively imagine and theorize other worlds, and ways of being together within those worlds. Theatrical performance events offer opportunities to collectively rehearse possibilities of becoming different from what we have been—for spectators and practitioners alike.

I have a BA in Theatre Performance from Western Michigan University, a MA in Theatre Studies from Florida State University, and a Ph.D. in Theatre Historiography from the University of Minnesota. I have worked as a professional actor and director in Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, and Minneapolis. Over the past decade, I have devised nearly twenty new performances, often in collaboration with my long-time directing partner Samantha Johns. Our first Minneapolis collaboration The Thing, was voted best performance of 2010 by the Twin Cities Daily Planet. Our most recent Minneapolis collaboration, SUPERHERO, was presented in the summer of 2018 at The Southern Theatre and supported by a Metropolitan Regional Arts Council grant. To see examples of my devising work, please visit my website.

I have taught at Northern Illinois University, the University of Minnesota, Guilford Technical Community College, and Florida State University. The courses I have taught include: Introduction to Theatre, Theatre History, Performance, Acting, Voice, Solo Performance Art, Beckett/Ionesco and Introduction to Devising.  At Adams State University, I’m very excited to use my expertise to continue developing the Collaborative Creation emphasis within the Theatre Program alongside the History/Literature, Performance, and Design/Technology areas.

I was born under the sun sign of Leo. I grew up in the Mid-West and have lived all over the United States. I believe studying theatre is a great way to learn and practice democracy. I am a huge fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I like to eat junk food. I like the desert climate more than any other climate I have lived in. I believe in climate change. I have not given up hope. I am a citizen of the world. I have a dog named rabbit. I love to teach. I love to learn. I love making theatre. I’m looking forward to working with you.

Dr. Paul Newman

Emeritus Professor