No Business Like Show Business

Calvin McLeanExcept for a brief detour into pre-med while in college, Calvin MacLean has always been a performer. He enjoyed singing and dancing as a boy, and it helped that his mother was a choir director while his stepfather taught radio and TV production.

"Whenever you hang around long enough you get involved," MacLean says about theatre.

While studying pre-med he tried some acting, but it didn’t come as naturally to him as directing. He directed his first play while earning his master’s degree at the University of Michigan.

"From the first rehearsal, I knew what I needed to do from then on. This is what I am about, what I am comfortable with," he says.

The play was Arthur Kopit’s "Chamber Music," a one-act show about eight women in an insane asylum who believe they are famous people in history such as Amelia Earhart, Susan B. Anthony and Joan of Arc.

"I liked being the leader. I had a lot to learn, but I was given the keys to the car. Now I like to do that for others and hope the car doesn’t get wrecked."

MacLean joined the UT faculty in 2006 as the producing artistic director at Clarence Brown Theatre and head of the theatre department. At the helm of the department, MacLean is performing a balancing act. Few university theatre programs are devoted to both establishing a professional theatre and offering students professional training, as Clarence Brown does.

So far, it is working very well. Clarence Brown Theatre had one of its most successful seasons ever last year with increased subscriptions and ticket sales. Every show uses professionals and students as actors, designers and other theatre staff.

The Secret RaptureLuckily for UT, MacLean believes this integration is "what I think I am about, what I can contribute to the world."

While interviewing for his current position, MacLean was asked about whether UT’s highest priority should be having a professional theatre or a professional training theatre.

"I thought it was the wrong question," he says. "The better question is how to make both work."

MacLean says UT is unique in having a theatre program integrating a professional company with teaching, meaning students work alongside professionals.

And here’s the vestige of the doctor wannabe in him: "Our program is like a teaching hospital. You wouldn’t let a student doctor into the world without an internship," he said. "Practical work is working with real doctors. Clarence Brown Theatre is a kind of teaching hospital."

Clarence Brown Theatre offers nine plays this season. MacLean will direct "The Secret Rapture," which will be performed in the Lab Theatre. Check UTTV listings for a special Campus Conversations episode spotlighting the Clarence Brown Theatre.

Calvin MacLean and his wife, Rebecca, a librarian, have a daughter, Rachel, and son, Sam. Outside CBT, his interests include spending time with his family, playing the guitar and gardening.

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