COLA Connections Newsletter
Faculty Spotlight: David Munnell
Passion comes from a number of different sources. Sometimes it springs up violently and unexpectedly, others it slowly grows and matures over time. The latter was the case for David Munnell, a Visiting Assistant Professor of Theatre and director of the Exact Theatre Ensemble.
"My interest in theater grew in high school and college, just getting involved in shows," said Munnell. "When I was in graduate school it deepened. I really thought I wanted to make a career out of it."
While Munnell's passion for the theater blossomed, he tried his hand at a number of different outlets. While he has acted and written professionally, directing stood out for Munnell.
"For me it was an opportunity to truly try to create the illusion of a world on the stage," said Munnell. "A fully realized world with characters…in conflict and fighting for things they want in that world. To me that was a really exciting thing to do."
The journey for Munnell began with receiving his Masters of Fine Arts from Florida State University. As is the case for many in his profession, Munnell was compelled towards New York City. He lived and worked for 10 years in New York before moving on to the next challenge.
That next challenge came in the form of artistic director of the Lucille Ball Festival of New Comedy in 1991. The festival focused on developing new comedic talent in short plays, films and stand-up comedy. Set in Lucille Ball's birthplace, Jamestown, NY, the comedy festival brought in the likes of Ellen DeGeneres, Lewis Black and Alan Ball. The location, however, proved troublesome to success.
"We were having trouble in a small Western NY town to attract the kind of audience that could appreciate and also pay for the kind of talent we were bringing in," said Munnell. "We were probably a bit too ambitious for our own britches."
For Munnell, the next outlet for his passion was teaching. While running an opera in Fredonia he took on an adjunct teaching job at SUNY Fredonia. Munnell taught classes in acting and directing among other related courses.
This led to a full-time teaching position at the University of Minnesota in their new Fine Arts program as an acting instructor. When extenuating circumstances led to his return to Western New York, Munnell took up teaching jobs at Geneseo and University of Rochester. In 2010, Munnell took an adjunct position at RIT. Now a visiting assistant professor, Munnell teaches a number of different classes to interested students.
"I almost always teach the Fine Arts Theater Arts class. It's basically an intro level class that does a bit of a survey of what theater is about, what its history is, how it's practiced," said Munnell. "So it's a real overview for the student on what theater is, what it's about, what are several theories and what do we think about in terms of criticism and entertainment."
Besides his teaching duties, Munnell is intimately involved in the Exact Theater Company. The company was created by Professor Peter Ferran and a group of his students as an outlet for likeminded students, faculty and alumni.
"The founding impetus of that company was to try and explore doing more significant or more challenging, more artistic theater than there were currently opportunities to do on campus," said Munnell.
He's quick to dispel any notions of elitism, however.
"Instead of doing pop music, [the Exact Theater Company] is doing Mozart," said Munnell, when comparing with other theater groups. "Nothing wrong with pop music, I love pop music, but it's another thing."
What has been the biggest challenge for the Exact Theater Company over the years is maintaining momentum. While the company has had a number of talented actors, writers and directors, membership is fairly fluid.
"The membership and the progression of the company has gone in fits and starts over the years," said Munnell. "It's generally driven by students or recent alumni, sometimes there's a strong motivation there and there's a lot of activity and sometimes it trickles away."
As the company evolves and adapts, it has evolved towards providing a more direct service to students.
"What we've been doing lately is bringing in former and recruiting new members to do some stuff on campus. Very sort of minimal productions," said Munnell. "We've been gearing them so far to audiences that are basically are fine arts, theater arts students."
These small scale productions were shown in fall quarter as two one-act plays about ten minutes in length. The plays use very little tech and involve a number of different actors, including Associate Dean of the College of Liberal Arts Babak Elahi.