Center (off stage) of attention [Telegraph-Herald (Dubuque, IA)]
(Telegraph-Herald (Dubuque, IA) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) RailWith a mother who taught high school math and an accountant father, Colin Muenster realized early on that a life of numbers would not add up for him. The youngest of seven children, he says, "I found theater arts out of a need to get attention." In a big family, you can go unnoticed unless you learn to speak up.
Colin, 27, was a student in my college creative writing class where his sensitivity to language, combined with a wry sense of irony, served him well as a writer and reviewer. Later, the Clarke University Theater Arts graduate remained in Dubuque to pursue two passions. The first was a relationship with his girlfriend (my daughter). The other was to use his college degree. The first pursuit resulted in marriage and the second the formation of a theater company.
As the creator and artistic director of Dubuque Art Theater, Muenster oversaw every aspect, including public relations, graphic design, scheduling, web management and overall production. He acted, he directed and he cleaned up after performances.
Colin explains the guiding principle behind Dubuque Art Theater, "I want an audience to be excited. I don't want them walking away just saying 'That was nice.' " He not only sought experimental productions, but also insisted that it be free. "I had been in plays that my friends could not attend because of cost. I wanted to remove that obstacle. I had the energy and willingness to take risks," he says. By funding through donations and grants, Muenster was liberated from producing only shows that were moneymakers.
He staged performances of Shakespeare-on-the-river including the "Tempest" (done in a Mark Twain motif) and "Romeo and Juliet." He recalls, "Anybody could be walking by on the Riverwalk and see this cultural event and stop and watch it and appreciate our city. I wanted to be part of people thinking 'Wow, what a great place to live.' "
Muenster also directed "Waiting for Godot," and "Nine People's Favorite Thing" - a cabaret night that invited audience members to vote on which of four musicals DAT should tackle. His greatest moment with DAT, however, was "The Last Five Years," an edgy play about relationships. Muenster notes, "The play's storytelling aspect of one person starting at the end of a relationship while the other person starts at the beginning of that same relationship is richly complex."
So how is it possible that a lad right out of college manages his own theater company? Clarke drama professor Joe Klinebriel explains, "Colin emerged as a leader early on. He's a self-starter who loves theater and possesses the passion for bringing challenging stories to life. He understands, supports and catalyzes great grassroot endeavors. One of my own proudest theater career moments was when Colin asked me to direct "Romeo and Juliet" with only a six-person cast at the pavilion on the Riverwalk. It was a wonderfully intimate and challenging opportunity."
A rising actor/director in Dubuque's theater scene, Colin has partnered with well-known pro, Lenore Howard, to script, direct and act in a living history of people buried at Linwood Cemetery (offered by the Linwood Cemetery Association and the Dubuque County Historical Society). He portrays A.Y. McDonald and famed writer Richard Bissell.
While Colin works theater by night, by day he has been engaged as a multi-categorical paraprofessional at Dubuque elementary schools Eisenhower and Fulton, and Wahlert Catholic High School. This fall he enters his second year as Wahlert's Director of Theater Arts while he also pursues a master's degree in Education.
"I love working with high school students most. I keenly remember how I felt back then - as if teachers didn't understand what I wanted, so I bring that experience to my students by listening both to what they say and to what they need. I love that moment when they get it, when they gain a whole new appreciation for not just theater, but for human experience."
Colin's home life is rich with such human experience. He and wife Elizabeth Enzler share lively discussions about movies, plays and books. "We more often disagree than agree but that's where I come to understand other ways of interpreting human experience," he says.
In their real life drama, their first child, Olivia, was born six months ago. She's a gabber, constantly vocalizing syllables. She is center stage in their home. Will she be an actor? "I doubt it," Colin says. "She's a first child and she really likes it when people count 1-2-3 around her."
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