Newman takes final bow at Adams State
Article by Linda Relyea
Dr. Paul Newman and Alex Adams '16 work on building the set for Arcadia, Doc's final Adams State production.
Days turn into nights, which turn into weekends as a play is produced. From the first audition, to read through, blocking, dress rehearsal until the curtain rises on opening night – Dr. Paul S. "Doc" Newman directs, designs and builds sets, designs lighting and sound – bringing to life stories on stage. He manages to inspire his students in the classroom and under the spotlight. "One of the pluses of my job is seeing these students all day long. I am very fond of them all."
After 23 years, Newman, emeritus professor of theatre, retired from Adams State University this spring.
A 2012 graduate, Kaitlyn Dawn appreciated Newman's honesty. "He would say what was on his mind and helped me develop honesty with myself." Now a teacher in Greeley, Colo., Dawn practices the same compassion for her students she learned from Newman. "He stressed the importance of listening to students, on and off stage."
Watching make-up being applied to a buddy motivated a teenaged Newman to step onto stage. "Sometimes the most shallow and stupid idea leads down the deepest path." Passing by and seeing girls apply grease paint on his friends, led to a professional career in theatre and teaching. "At first, it was the perks of having attractive girls touch my face." But by his senior year in high school, Newman had acted in three plays, and went on to study theatre in college.
Behind the scenes
"I realized I am not a good actor," Newman said. "I am constantly looking at the whole forest, not the tree that was me." Fortunately for two decades of theatre students, the program itself, and Adams State as a whole, Newman excelled at directing, set design and building, as well as other technical aspects of theatre.
Most importantly, Newman connected with the students and made them feel needed. "We all knew we were integral to the sustainability of the program," said Adams State theatre alumnus Ben Butler '09.
As with many in the profession, a high school English teacher inspired Newman to pursue a passion in education. "My junior year, an English professor introduced a whole new dynamic in teaching. He was engaging, funny, collegial, and I knew I wanted to love my work just as he did, I wanted to teach English and direct plays."
Newman received his bachelor's degree from the University of Minnesota and landed his first job "in heaven." He taught English in a small town in Minnesota along the Mississippi River. He managed to spread his passion for theatre to the high school students, taking four one-act plays to state. "One of our productions was the only play to ever receive a standing ovation."
Secondary to college level
After 13 years in the public school system, Newman wanted a change. "I had great fun and had directed all I wanted to do but I was a one-man band and was tired of being responsible for everything." He returned to the University of Minnesota.
"It was still the dark ages," Newman said. The program prepared theatre doctoral candidates for everything, from theatre history to machine shop, setting lights, designing tech, and directing. "Graduate education has changed: everyone is expected to become a specialist, not a generalist as I was back then." A year after finishing his Ph.D., Newman was offered three positions, including at Adams State.
"When I first started (fall semester 1992) theatre was more of a club than a major or program. We chose plays based on how many students were available rather than content." He knew after meeting Dr. Carolyn Harper, emeritus professor of theatre; Dr. Joe Kolupke, emeritus professor of English; and Dr. David Svaldi, emeritus president (at the time a fellow colleague in the English Department) that he could work at Adams State.
"I love the ASU Theatre program," Newman said. "Originally we had a lot of autonomy, when we were housed on the second floor of Richardson Hall because few people came to see us." However, all that changed when an architectural firm approached Newman with the idea to build a new building. "I hadn't realized Adams State had this in mind." He credits Dr. Tom Gilmore, emeritus professor of business who was president at the time, with getting the bill funded through the State Legislature.
"One of my greatest experiences was being involved in the process of designing and building the Theatre Building."
Program of equals
Not only did the addition of a new building breathe life into the professors, it increased enrollment in the theatre program. By the mid-2000s, they peaked with over 60 majors. "It was overwhelming. Now, we are right where we should be."
The camaraderie between Newman and his theatre colleagues keeps the program strong. "We all get along wonderfully. I love John (Taylor), Jenna (Neilsen), and Jim (Willis) to death. We all complement one another."
John Taylor, professor of theatre, said: "Paul is a true man of the theatre, one of the highest compliments I can pay him." Taylor admires Newman's ability to "do it all. He is a theatre historian, director, set and lighting designer, and technical director. This is an uncommon combination." He knows the program will miss Newman. "But here's the truth: Paul is, more than anything, a teacher. So we will carry on because he has taught us well."
For Jenna Neilsen, associate professor of theatre, arriving at Adams State fresh out of graduate school, Newman became a mentor and true friend. "We forged a bond in production meetings, designing for one another's shows, and in the back hallway of the theatre discussing everything from the success of our students to our personal lives. He taught me how to be a better director but always treated me as an equal, valuing my creative input as I valued his."
Doc poses with the cast from Arcadia.
Even after all these years, opening night continues to fill Newman with a "palatable electric current." He always wears his tuxedo for opening night, even for the student productions. "I have learned to be a little calmer and rely on the students, especially the stage manager, to take care of all the details."
One of the first theatre majors Newman worked with, Dessa Donnelly '95 called Newman a "solid, professional, fair, man. I have the utmost respect for him. He was a patriarch to this theatre."
Comedy or drama, Newman appreciates both but finds comedy to be more challenging. "There is a precision in the pacing of comedy you don't need in drama. It is something you can attempt to teach, but in my experience, is very intuitive." His ability to bring out that innate comedic timing in student actors made for many great productions on the Main Stage, including an audience favorite Cinderella, a British pantomime version (a style of performance that includes the audience, allows improvisation, insult humor, and gender bender casting) and one of Newman's favorites.
Other favorite productions include: Arcadia, Buried Child, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Compleat Female Stage Beauty, Good, The Little Match Girl, Noises Off, Orestes, Peter Pan, Pirates of Penzance, Rabbit Hole, A Streetcar Named Desire, and Wonder of the World.
For his last production on the Adams State Theatre Main Stage, Newman chose Arcadia. "Arcadia has it all. I love the language, the densely packed ideas, comedy, and, my favorite theme, unrequited love."
Newman taught theatre history, dramatic theory and criticism, play direction, scenic, lighting design and stagecraft, and stage and house management. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota, in 1991.
As a surprise, on the evening of June 25, Newman received the Distinguished Merit Award from the Colorado Community Theatre Coalition, their highest honor. He was honored in 2004 as the Higher Education Theatre Educator of the Year by the Alliance for Colorado Theatre.
Collaborative and cooperative
Although some designers rely on specific steps and processes when designing a set, Newman said he keeps himself open to images and ideas after reading through a play a number of times. Each production is approached in its own unique way. "I love the collaboration of theatre and working together to solve problems."
Newman has adjudicated play competitions for the American Association of Community Theatres, the Colorado Community Theatre Coalition, the Rocky Mountain Theatre Association, and the Minnesota State High School One-Act Play Competition.
He has served as president of Rocky Mountain Theatre Association, and is a member of Association for Theatre in Higher Education, and United States Institute for Theatre Technology. He and his wife, Patti, established the Paul S. and Patti K. Newman Theatre Education Scholarship.
He and Patti have three children and one grandchild. The Newmans are moving to the Bailey/Conifer area of Colorado, where Newman will continue to direct plays for community and local theatres. "You never retire from theatre."