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By Molly Duddlesten
Theatre Instructor Elizabeth “Liz” Helman has been teaching at Oregon State University for more than a decade. Through teaching and directing, her knowledge and expertise have impacted the lives of OSU students in theatre and majors all across campus. Helman is a graduate of Santa Clara University’s undergraduate theatre arts program, and the University of Oregon’s graduate theater arts program. Let’s learn more about Liz and about OSU’s thriving theatre program.
What originally drew you to theatre?
There are a couple of things that went into why I chose theatre. Growing up, I was always an imaginative kid, so I liked pretending and making up stories. When I got to high school and joined the theatre program, I loved it. I loved how it allowed me to use my imagination and creativity, while also bringing together my other interests like writing and history. Our theatre class went down to Ashland one year, and there was one play that had a really big impression on me, which was "The Play Arcadia." There was something about it, or that production, that just totally captivated me. It was the first play that made me think, "Wow, theatre can do that?" It inspired me in a lot of ways and fueled my passion for theatre as a whole. So I went to college, majored in theatre and English, and just stayed on from there. I love it so much--I love to make it, do it, teach it, you name it.”
What made you decide you wanted to teach?
Being in a really great college theatre program, and the positive influence from my professors drew me to teaching. I felt that they were just really inspiring and interesting people. This idea of getting to spend your life sharing something you love with other people is just exciting. It’s never boring, and it forces me to continue to learn and engage with art, theatre, literature, and politics. Of course, it helps that I have some pretty great students.
What do you like most about teaching?
I love teaching college because the students are at such an exciting time in their lives where there are so many possibilities—their whole world is changing. It’s so rewarding to mentor these students through this time when there is so much going on, and helping them find what they want to do with all the potential they bring with them to campus.
What makes the OSU theatre program special?
The OSU theatre program is very flexible and, overall, inviting. Both the major and minor are designed with the intent to allow students to explore a variety of different areas and get a taste of a little bit of everything. There’s a really good opportunity to develop yourself as a full theater artist in this program. It’s a lot of fun!
Are there separate paths for students interested in theatre tech versus those who want to pursue acting?
Absolutely! Although you’ll find that our programs often combine and collaborate with one another. In theatre, it’s so important to know how to communicate with everybody, no matter their position. Being able to know and understand what everyone else does is incredibly helpful and it makes you better at your job. Our program does a great job at preparing students for that.
Tell us about what we’ll be seeing this season:
All the plays [this season] are based on works of literature. There are familiar stories, and there are also familiar stories with a twist. We’re starting out with an adaptation of Bram Stoker’s "Dracula," which has all the spooky elements you would see in classic Dracula, but it’s also a little bit campy as well. We also have our student directed show called "Nightfall," which is a collection of Edgar Allan Poe short stories and poems that are staged. For the winter, we have an adaptation of "The Little Prince," directed by an OSU alumnus. And lastly, this spring, I will be directing "Sense & Sensibility," as well as supervising the annual student-directed One Act Festival. We’ve got a great season this year! I’m excited to watch it all play out.
How excited are you to be directing “Sense & Sensibility”?
Very! It’s this beautiful, witty Jane Austen love story, which is a great end to the main stage season. We’re doing the same adaptation that was done last year at The Oregon Shakespeare Festival, which I’m really excited to sink my teeth into.
What advice would you give to an incoming freshman wanting to study theater at OSU?
Come check it out, and don’t be nervous! If you’re interested in [the program], there is a place for you. We’re all here to help you, so don’t be intimidated. And definitely come take a class! Whatever your interests are, there’s going to be something you could learn more deeply. There’s truly something for everyone here in OSU Theatre.
Molly Duddlesten, a senior majoring in English with a minor in writing, is a writing intern for SAC Marketing & Communications. Photo by Zachary C. Person.