A (probably too lengthy) biography of RS Beam (for those bored enough to care).
I was born in Evanston, IL, in the fall of 1944, the son of a Professor of Electrical Engineering at Northwestern University and a librarian who was the daughter of an English professor at the University of North Dakota. That probably helps explain my life-long involvement with education.
I graduated from Evanston Twp. High School in 1962 with the intent of attending Indiana University to study television broadcasting with an interest in doing theatrical productions on TV. For those of you too young to remember, this WAS, in fact, done (live) in those days, check your broadcasting history. Apparently, I didn’t look over the catalog too well, because when I got to Bloomington, I discovered that it wasn’t possible to major in Broadcasting and minor in Theatre, so I decided to do it the other way around. That didn’t ultimately work out and I ended up as a Theatre Major with a minor in English (which was, for all intents and purposes, a minor in Dramatic Lit, as it seemed to make sense for a theatre person to know something about the important plays of history). I confess, that I still think that makes a good deal of sense.
I got my Bachelor’s degree in 1966 and immediately started working on my Master’s at IU while I was a member of the Indiana Theatre Company, a semi-professional touring repertory company operated by IU, where I served as co-technical director, lighting designer, occasional actor and stage manager, and helped drive the truck, while attending graduate classes on a limited schedule. That December, just after Christmas, I got married to Bonnie Jordan of Park Ridge, IL., whom I had met at IU a couple of years earlier. That means that we grew up just a few miles apart but had to go off to school in a different state to meet.
After two years with the ITC, I had finished my course work, but not my thesis (an analysis of the promptbook for a production of The Merry Wives of Windsor at the Theatre Royal, Birmingham, in the late-middle Nineteenth Century). Being unable to leave Bloomington (as my major source [the original promptbook] was in the Lilly [rare books] Library there), I took a job in retail (Men's Dept.) at a local department store, where Bonnie had been working while I was in school (and on the road).
Finishing my thesis and graduating in 1969, I took a position as Technical Director/ Scenic/ Lighting Designer with Theatre 65 – The Children’s Theatre of Evanston, where I had gotten my first real exposure to theatre as a child. That lasted two years, until the local school district (#65) lost a bond referendum and was unable to continue to sponsor the theatre. That forced me to seek other employment and I ended up interviewing with a man named Don Loeffler for a position as Designer/TD at Western Carolina University in Cullowhee, NC, which I was offered and which I accepted.
Thus began a 43-year relationship during which I watched Western change from a rather smallish, isolated school (“the most rural university in the country”) into one which can hold its own against many larger and better known ones, and not just in terms of its Theatre Program. It’s come a long way from the early days when the nearest thing resembling a modern, full fledged grocery store was 25 miles away up a winding, 2-lane, mountain road. That’s not to say that Sylva/Cullowhee has become an urban mecca, far from it, but it’s not quite the isolated little town it was in those days either, thanks to newer, better roads and significant growth throughout the area.
Along the way, I took a year’s leave to do my doctoral course work at the University of Georgia in the mid-1970's and, eventually, finished my Ph.D. (with a dissertation studying color in light) while trying to help Bonnie raise our two girls and serving as principal Scenic and Lighting Designer and Technical Director for Western’s active Theatre Program, including a two summer stint helping run a Western-based summer theatre at Fontana Village. Occasionally, I was able to do a bit of acting and directing, as well. In the earliest days, I even had to supervise costumes, although I had to rely heavily on others for anything complicated, as my sewing skills were (and are) pretty nonexistent.
As the program grew and changed, I would, eventually start doing more with Theatre History and Dramatic Lit./Crit. I got the opportunity to serve for two years as Faculty Fellow for Instructional Technology with the Coulter Center in the early-mid 1990’s, served a couple of terms in the Faculty Senate and, later, as Chair of the Faculty from 2006 to 2010, in addition to many committees, etc. along the way, as well as a variety of teaching and production duties (design, producing, publicity, season tickets, pretty much you name it) within the Theatre Program.
Recently, after talking and thinking about it for several years, Bonnie (who spent the last part of her career working as the Administrative Assistant for Western’s Honors College) and I finally decided to retire. This brings us close to the present. By now, our daughters are both grown and established. Kate, the elder, with two children of her own (son Xander and daughter Mira) lives in Leesburg, VA, with her husband, Ty, and Maggi, the younger, lives in Omaha, NE, and works for the Hyatt Hotel company.
Given our retired state, we have moved to Omaha, mostly to be nearer Maggi, but also to get back to something a bit more urban (and Midwestern) after a long time being away from that. So, we’ve bought a house (a really nice one) in southwestern Omaha and have moved there.
Omaha is NOT (as many people probably think) just a "dirt-water" town on the Great Plains. It has a long history from the early days of the railroads and is, in fact, a very nice, modern city of modest size compared to Atlanta, Chicago, New York and Los Angles, but well provided for in terms of modern amenities: a world-class zoo (look it up); a rather decent art museum (not huge, but a good collection and traveling exhibits); a nice historical museum (again a good collection of local stuff and a variety of traveling exhibits); quite a nice botanical garden (which we have enjoyed more than I might have expected); lots of local theatre, a local symphony with a full schedule, major tours of Broadway shows, a couple of local arenas with a wide variety of concerts, rodeos, trade shows, etc. There's also a variety of local minor league baseball, football, hockey, and other sports, in addition to both University of Nebraska (Lincoln is only an hour away) and UNO athletics, concerts, plays, and more. There's a LOT to do here. We, obviously, have to pick and choose a lot, and don't get to go to many things, including everything which might be of interest. Bonnie and I are both active in local organizations, as well; Bonnie's in several groups within the "New Neighbors League," and me, primarily, with the "Omaha Sherlockian Society."
Partially because it’s something I’ve always enjoyed (writing), and partially because I always tried to keep my personal beliefs and opinions pretty much out of the classroom, I decided that having a personal blog would allow me to “vent” a bit on subjects near and dear to my heart. Topics on the blog are fairly wide-ranging, although I adopted a policy of avoiding topics which touch too heavily on politics a while back. I confess that I find that too much of our contemporary political scene is hard on my blood pressure, so I try to limit my news intake to just enough to stay informed, but not get involved with too many "talking heads," which seem to dominate ALL of the "News(?) Channels."
Still, I can usually find something to post about every couple of weeks. Some of the opinions I express in my blog may annoy some readers (assuming that I have any). Others, more people may agree with and/or enjoy. I’ve always found that the process of writing something down forces me to consider multiple sides and to try to clarify my opinions. That’s also a bit of what “Dr. B’s Notes,” is all about.