Enter John Dillon: Far from Home
In August, the Sarah Lawrence theatre program welcomed John Dillon, who succeeds longtime faculty member Shirley Kaplan as director of the undergraduate and graduate programs. Kaplan stepped down after 14 years to devote more time to teaching, theatre outreach and production.
Dillon has been associate director of the Institute of Dramatic Arts in Tokyo since 1994 and has collaborated on stage productions in Japan since the 1980’s. Two of his Institute productions—“The Grapes of Wrath” and “Death of a Salesman”—received Japan’s most prestigious theatre award.
Dillon’s introduction to academia came at the North Carolina School of the Arts, where he worked with students during his eight years as an artist-in-residence. He later guest-taught master classes at SLC—attracted and intrigued, he notes, by a school that would devote a full concert to contemporary composer George Crumb (part of the 2003-04 music series).
“I want students to understand that theatre is a creative instrument to be used in various ways, including for political and social concerns,” Dillon says. The fall performance schedule reflected his philosophy. September featured a three-night presentation of “Useful Propaganda,” a piece about voting based on student and faculty interviews conducted by theatre faculty member James Shearwood; in November, Ernest Abuba of the theatre faculty directed “Speak Truth to Power,” Ariel Dorfman’s dramatization of the work of human rights activists.
Dillon has inaugurated Monday theatre meetings, which bring together faculty and students for auditions, discussions of works in production and anything else concerning the universe that exists between stage left and stage right. He also instituted “Why Theatre?,” presenting speakers from the national theatre scene like actress Jane Alexander ’61, former director of the National Endowment for the Arts. “Why Theatre?” is open to the entire College community.
While artistic director of the Milwaukee Repertory Theatre, from 1976 to 1993, he instituted exchanges with theatre companies in Mexico, Russia, Ireland, Chile, Japan and England. He has staged productions at theatres in England, Russia, Japan and Egypt, as well as across the United States—all the while directing new works by such noted playwrights as David Mamet, Larry Shue, Joanna Glass, Ariel Dorfman, David Rambo and Amlin Gray.
Dillon hopes to incorporate an international component into the College’s theatre program, such as studying foreign theatre traditions and presenting works based on stories and fables from overseas. “I want to use my passion for and experience in foreign cultures to broaden the perspective and offerings of the theatre department,” he says.
A member of the executive committee of the Society of Stage Directors and Choreographers, Dillon also serves on the editorial board of the Kennedy Center’s Opening Stages, an online magazine for actors with disabilities.