Professor of Theatre
Although it stands in stark contrast to Juniatans who have witnessed the strong revival of the College's theatre program, it might be best to think of Juniata theatre professor Andrew Belser as a theatre guy who doesn't live and breathe the smell of the greasepaint or the roar of the crowd.
Belser, who grew up the son of a high school history teacher in Hershey, Pa., recalls being much more interested in sports and music in his formative years. Early on, however, his parents would take the family on long camping trips all over the country, taking in historical monuments, battlefields, national parks and summer theatre. "I just loved sitting under the stars with my family just watching these big events," he says.
He was never the kid who draped a curtain over the clothesline and put on a backyard show. "In my twenties, I kept waiting for a revelation," he says with a smile. "I've always felt like an oddball in theatre because I'm not this ravenous theatregoer. Theatre has a place in my life, but it is not my whole life."
Memories of those idle summer nights on vacation eventually sparked an interest in plays and teaching. He earned a bachelor's degree in communication arts from Grove City College, where he directed his first play. William Saroyan's "Hello Out There. "It felt like breathing to me," he says. "If there ever was a siren call for me, it was directing."
He went on to earn a master's degree in theatre literature and criticism from Villanova University and a master's degree in directing from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. He joined the Juniata faculty in 1997. He lives in State College with his wife, Virginia, and sons, Noah, 4, and Avery, 2.
Belser maintains a professional directing career beyond Juniata. He works as a professional director and as guest director at other colleges and universities. He also gives workshops and teaches a Juniata course in Contact Improvisation, a movement form. "Directing and teaching are not so different," he explains. "Both involve helping people open new ways of seeing things. I can't imagine giving up teaching to solely concentrate on directing."
"Andy has developed a process as a director that is wholly his own," says Whit McLaughlin, a freelance director and actor based in Philadelphia who has known Belser since both attended Virginia Tech. "The way he speaks to actors has a clarity and directness that makes actors feel that they're part of a collaboration."
"I'm very intense with students and I'm not there only to give them a fun, nifty experience," Belser says. "My students are human beings doing theatre and if they are trained well, they are capable of extraordinary things."
Belser loves the freedom of being able to stage challenging dramas or musicals that might not ever be staged by other types of theatres.
"The nature of the artist is to challenge boundaries," he says. "College campuses are one of the last great places where there is a clear freedom of artistic expression. Colleges are essential patrons of the arts these days."
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