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Exclusive: Interview With Dr. Markus Wessendorf

Exclusive: Interview With Dr. Markus Wessendorf

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The following article by Dennis Ihara was approved by Dr. Markus Wessendorf.  However, SAG-AFTRA National censored and refused to publish unless it was rewritten.  Dennis withdrew it and submitted to Hitting the Stage.  

Hitting the Stage is proud to present this feature interview in its entirety to our community about this wonderful development sure to enrich not only our university's curriculum but our local arts community as well!

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DR. WESSENDORF INTERVIEW: By Dennis Ihara

This reporter is a long-time member of SAG-AFTRA and also a graduate student of playwriting at the UH-Manoa (UHM) Theatre and Dance (T&D) Dept. He was elated to hear that respected Theatre Professor Dr. Markus Wessendorf, from whom he had taken a few classes, was named Chair of the Academy for Creative Media (ACM). Your writer became excited about the possibility that ACM and T&D working together, could lead to more acting opportunities for actors. It was Final Exam time on campus and this writer being a student and also former Lecturer at UHM, was concerned that due to finals and other factors, he would be denied an interview. However, without hesitation , Dr. Wessendorf was willing to meet.

Reporter: Let's start in reverse, covering how you got the opportunity to be appointed as Chair of ACM when you are a Professor in T&D? Did this create rumblings in what rumors are said to be in ACM?

Dr. Wessendorf: I was approached by Dean of Arts and Humanities Peter Arnade to Chair ACM, but I told ACM faculty I would only accept the position if they voted unanimously to collaborate with me for an entire year. The vote was unanimous with one abstention.

Reporter: For how long is your appointment?

Dr. Wessendorf: At this point, one year.

Reporter: How was the reaction from T&D?

Dr. Wessendorf: I will still be in contact next academic year and teach one theatre class each semester. For the first time, we will have a Graduate Assistant, Annastasia Fiala-Watkins work as a liaison between the departments of T&D and ACM. Annastasia, who is currently an MFA Acting student will organize and publicize mass auditions at ACM every semester, establish and maintain an ACM website with information on all local acting talent, and help cast film projects by ACM students. Professors Stacy Ray* from T&D and Joel Moffett from ACM will be working with Annastasia from their respective departments. ( *Reporter's note: Prof. Stacy Ray is a member of SAG-AFTRA.)

Reporter: It has long been this Reporter's quest to have more SAG-AFTRA involvement not only in ACM, but in T&D, primarily because some of our graduates and actors leave for the mainland where there are more stage and film opportunities, and secondly, he believes it will make for more acting opportunities for our members. How do you envision actors and ACM?

Dr. Wessendorf: I want to make sure that ACM directors (students as well as faculty and staff) work with acting students from T&D as well as with actors from the community and SAG-AFTRA members. At this point, too many ACM student films feature other ACM students without much acting training.

Reporter: ACM and Prof. Joel Moffett already have a working relationship with SAG-AFTRA, of which I am a board member. Many of our actors participate in ACM organized table readings. How do you envision SAG-AFTRA's future participation?

Dr. Wessendorf: I will do my best to strengthen and even expand this collaboration.

Reporter: How do you see ACM evolving under your tenure?

Dr. Wessendorf: I will try to get ACM faculty to focus on the future, for examples, the securing of a permanent facility for ACM that would also have a sound stage, the creation of a BFA or MFA program in Film Production, more collaboration with other departments, stronger outreach and recruitment efforts to increase the number of students, etc.

Reporter: Let's talk about your background in acting. 

Dr. Wessendorf: When I was a student in the 1980s and early 1990s, I acted in a few stage productions: I co-founded and performed with a children's theatre company in Germany in the mid-1980s; I was in a German production by the NY based director John Jesurun (a long-time collaborator of Steve Buscemi) that toured to Holland; I performed in a short film by Steve Ausbury, Life on the Compound, in the mid-1990s. However, I gave up performing a long time ago because I am really a horrible actor. I prefer working as a director or dramaturg and have directed theatre productions regularly since 1986, including in NY and Brisbane.

Reporter: Educational background? (Reporter's Note: He was given pages of an impressive vitae according to which Dr. Wessendorf got a Diploma and a PhD in "Applied Theatre Studies-Drama, Theatre, Media," from Giessen University, Germany, learned Kathakali dance in India, worked on a post doctoral project in Australia, and taught at three different universities in NY City before moving to Honolulu in 2001.

Dr. Wessendorf: Even though my primary focus is on theatre and performance, I have always had a strong interest in film. In college, I took classes on Alfred Hitchcock, Jean-Luc Godard, John Cassavetes, and the German cinema of the 1920s. I am still a fan of Stanley Kubrick, David Lynch, and John Woo. Even the theatre directors and groups I wrote my thesis and dissertation on-Richard Foreman's Ontological-Hysteric Theatre and Elizabeth LeCompte's The Wooster Group, both from NY- dabbled in film and were among the first theatre artists to extensively use video and multimedia in their productions. Willem Dafoe was a member of The Wooster Group (and LeCompte's husband) for many years. At UHM I have also taught classes on film noir and the cinema of German director Rainer Werner Fassbinder.

Reporter : How can we in the outpost of Hawai'i enhance film production?

Dr. Wessendorf: More training; better funding; greater efforts at publicizing locally produced films.

Reporter: In closing, what would be your advice for aspiring actors and film makers in Hawai'i?

Dr. Wessendorf: Get involved in as many film projects as you can; network with other people pursuing similar dreams locally and nationally.

Reporter: With that, the energetic Dr. Wessendorf was off to another meeting. Undoubtedly he will make an impact on the Film and Acting Industry in Hawai'i .

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