To Teach or not to Teach: A Profile of Professor Dan LaPenta

October 26, 2018

Professor Dan LaPenta was not always compelled to the theater. In fact, he did not dive into the theater until well into his senior year of high school and early in his freshman year at Boston College. Initially a Math and possible Physics major, LaPenta was surprised when he found himself helping Boston College’s shows as a stagehand. That year, Boston College introduced Theater as a new major. The same year, LaPenta switched to an English and Theater double major, and the rest is history.


However, LaPenta’s serendipitous path to theater did not stop there. At the time, LaPenta considered himself primarily an actor at first, but it was not until grad school that he took on the role of directing. LaPenta very candidly admitted, “I didn’t like to audition and go through all that stuff.” Not only did he feel like acting was not for him, but he felt that he was being pulled to direct instead of act, saying, “Directing was an open path for me.”


In his last year of grad school, LaPenta found himself being compelled to another art form--teaching. Luckily for LaPenta, a full-time teacher had just resigned at Boston College and he was able to take his place. LaPenta has not stopped teaching since.


He began his career at Drew University in 1980. Initially, LaPenta was drawn to Drew due to its proximity to New York City and its connection with the Shakespeare Theatre. However, what made LaPenta stay was the freedom of expression, as he stated, “The best part about Drew for me is the freedom to do the plays I want to direct.”


LaPenta has enjoyed many performances he’s directed here at Drew. Lovingly, he recalls “Three Sisters” as being his most challenging and rewarding directing experience. LaPenta used to be convinced he would never direct a Chekhov play. “I will never do Chekhov. It’s too hard, too complicated,” he used to say. However in 2014, the arts department decided to perform “Three Sisters,” and LaPenta took on the challenge. He is grateful for this and believes that it gave him the “chutzpah” to direct “Hamlet” and more recently “King Lear,” which LaPenta described as a “totally exhilarating experience.”


As many know by now, LaPenta will be retiring after he leads his last ShortTREC to London in 2019. Although LaPenta might describe his plans after retirement to be as ambiguous as “Hamlet,” he knows that directing is no longer in his future.


“I feel like I’ve done what I need to do in theater...the thing about teaching and theater, it always feels like there is more you can be doing,” he said. “I feel like there’s this voice in the back of my head saying ‘You can do more Dan!’ and I’m ready for that voice to go away.”


It seems fate has always had it out for Professor LaPenta, but not in the way it was out to destroy the characters of “King Lear” or “Hamlet,” and it only makes sense that it will continue to follow him into his retirement. Although much is uncertain in life after retirement, LaPenta does have one particular plan in mind, “I’d love to, in retirement, read all the Shakespeare plays I haven’t gotten to yet and just go through the complete works without that voice in the back of my head...It’s a start.”


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