by Betsey Norgard
“Here at Augsburg, we’re a college that’s open and right in the middle of the world around us, rather than being closed off,” says theatre arts professor and department chair Darcey Engen. “At the heart of our theatre program we’re always asking, ‘What can we do academically that affects the world around us’?”
Engen is a 1988 graduate from Augsburg’s theatre arts program. What she learned as a student is what she still considers the department’s strength—that students learn everything about theatre, not just acting. They learn the technical side of lighting, set design, and even things like how to finesse closing the house doors just as the curtain goes up.
This all comes together as they work directly with professional theatre artists, including the most renowned in the Twin Cities.
“They leave Augsburg as artists, not just actors,” says Engen.
Relationships with theatre students begin before they enter Augsburg and last long after. The department recruits high school students, welcomes them into the program, and mentors them into careers as they become alums.
Engen has strong relationships with high school drama teachers, some of whom are Augsburg alumni. The theatre department willingly shares technical resources and offers workshops to support local high school productions. As a recruitment initiative each year, Engen coordinates Theatre Connections Day, inviting high school students to Augsburg to attend a production, meet students and faculty, and sit in on classes—and several students eventually enroll.
Theatre students and faculty become a close-knit community. Engen’s firstyear seminar is a cohort of 15 students who study, attend plays, and learn together.
“We push them to their absolute capacity, and they step up to it,” says Engen. “We’re there with them, all the time, analyzing what they’re good at—and we push them toward what they’re not good at or what they’re afraid to attempt.”
Engen is continually amazed at what theatre graduates can do. “Alums only four or five years out, together as a group, are producing an entire production of Hamlet—because they know how to do everything.”
Engen also writes and performs. She was recently on stage with two colleagues in “I’m Telling,” a collaborative story project with performance and song she wrote in which the three of them, from different backgrounds, tell their own stories about the experiences of motherhood—all personal, yet universal.
Each time she’s on stage, Engen says, “I’m seeing my own identity, both the joy and pains.”