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Central Missouri's Department of Theatre office is not spacious, but it is a constant beehive of activity. Students come and go, waiting in chairs outside offices of individual instructors for insight and advice that will allow them to succeed.
In the middle of it all is Richard Herman, chair of the department. In Herman's 18 years with the department, students and colleagues alike have learned they can count on him to teach, dispel fears, set standards and encourage excellence.
Herman's qualities as an educator were recognized by his peers this summer as he received the Wayne Brown Outstanding Teacher of the Year Award. The award is presented by the Speech and Theatre Association of Missouri for excellence in teaching and inspired leadership.
As department chair for the past four years, Herman has been instrumental in securing a permanent performance space for the Black Box Theatre and purchasing new seating and a new rigging system for the James L. Highlander Theatre.
Under Herman's leadership, the Department of Theatre received more than 25 awards at the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival Region V in St. Louis in January 2005, an unprecedented accomplishment. Herman's leadership also has been reflected in the largest freshman enrollment in the history of the Department of Theatre this fall.
John Wilson, associate professor, has worked closely with "Buzz" Herman as a faculty member. He also recognizes his qualities as a mentor. "To know and work with Buzz is like having free access to an artistic machine," Wilson said. "I borrow from his brain, his heart and his imagination all the time. He has provided leadership in my classes, the plays I direct and administrative and departmental duties. I wouldn't be the artist I am today, nor would our department have the success and recognition it has, without his leadership."
Herman's students also have found a mentor who encourages them to test the boundaries of their own abilities. Ryan Morehead, a senior theatre major, was cast as Macbeth in the department's fall mainstage production. He knows Herman as a director and a teacher.
"His ideas gave me a totally different interpretation of the character," he said. "As a director, his style is collaborative, not dictatorial. And you won't find anyone more passionate about his subject in the classroom. There is a non-stop intensity, and it's contagious."
Herman said he always wanted to teach. His interest in theatre led him to a career he still finds fascinating. "I like to direct, and here I get to direct many more productions than I would in professional theatre," he said. "And all the while, I'm able to teach young actors in a collaborative style of learning. There are no egos involved, just young people who want to learn and grow."
Herman was a driving force behind the development of the Black Box Theatre, a small experimental venue in a campus residence hall where students can learn their craft.
"Black Box has become one of our most popular places for performing," he said. "Students can perform without critique or reviews, and it gives us the opportunity to try new plays in original productions."
By Mike Greife '74