“Do You Play Pool?”

Share a story about someone who had a positive impact on your life.

In the past I’ve told the story about the high school nun who set me on a path into the arts, and also my college theatre professor who served as my gateway into my academic career. So let me tell you now about an OSU professor who mentored me through my Master’ thesis.

I arrived at Ohio State for the Master of Fine Arts Directing program. Halfway through year one, I decided that the program (which was undergoing transitions, as was the department—and I’m putting this nicely) wasn’t for me, so I switched to the MA program to finish more quickly.

Dr. Yvonne Shafer taught the dramatic criticism classes, which is the main reason I list on my Curriculum Vita, “Emphasis in directing and dramatic criticism” for that program. She made the topic incredibly interesting and the classes very engaging.

When it came time to choose a dissertation advisor, I wanted her, but the aforementioned “transitions” included her and an excellent directing professor, Byron Ringland, being terminated. Luckily they were around my last year so she could serve as my second reader. I had to choose a long-time tenured professor as my advisor.

However, I’m not sure if my main advisor ever read my thesis. I met with Yvonne one day for notes, which she provided in helpful detail. When I then met with him, he asked, ”What did Yvonne say?” I recounted her notes, and he said, “Yes I agree with all of those comments.” This is one of the reason that I, as a college professor, always read all of my students’ work.

The title for this blog post comes from a social occasion at one of the professors’ houses; he had a pool table in the game room. Yvonne said, “Mr. Schrum, do you play pool?” I can still hear the way she said it. So we played a game.

There was another occasion she criticized my tan. She said (tongue-in-cheek, of course) that all serious scholars spend their summers inside libraries doing research and not outside.

I kept in touch with her when I could, but for a while lost track. Once at an Association of Theatre in Higher Education (ATHE) conference, I saw a long-time friend of hers, Dr. Marvin Carlson. I walked up to him and asked, “How’s Yvonne?” and he provided me with an update. During that conversation, I looked around and saw people staring at me—I had dared approach the famous Marvin Carlson and engaged him! Who was I? Wow! To me he was an academic who had some information I wanted. And he was very personable and down to earth, just like Yvonne. (Lesson: just approach your heroes and say hello. It can’t hurt.)

One final Yvonne-related story: she was teaching at St. John’s College on Staten Island, and had me come give a lecture on using technology in teaching. I began talking with my HyperCard presentation projected onto the screen, but suddenly the screen went black. I looked to the tech person but he was no help with his contemptuous comment, “You have a Mac.” It turned out it was a bad cable, but I spent the rest of the talk using chalk to extol the wonders of technology. That wouldn’t be the last time that sort of thing would happen, but it may have been the last time I saw Yvonne, who certainly influenced me strongly to become the professor I evolved into.

Published by stephenschrum

Associate Professor of Theatre Arts; interested in virtual worlds, playwrighting, and filmmaking. Now creating a podcast called "Audio Chimera."

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