Alum spotlight: Diego Villada (MFA ’08)

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Diego Villada, MFA in Acting / Pedagogy, 2008

While some states (like Virginia) have honors colleges at multiple institutions, the State University System of Florida has designated one college for the entire state, the New College of Florida. Since 2018, Diego has been Director of Theatre, Dance and Performance Studies. He’s the first full-time hire in Theatre with the mission to create their first theatre program.

Diego as a Spanish Armada character in a VCU No Shame performance (with VCU alum Katie Bradley)
Diego as a Spanish Armada character in VCU No Shame performance. 2008

When Diego was in undergrad at the University of Evansville, a professor noted that he had “talent in teaching, so it encouraged me to look for opportunities to train in stage combat.” When he started looking for grad schools, “VCU kept popping up.”

Diego Fight Directing “Romeo and Juliet” at the University of Evansville. Evansville, IN

Diego recalls, “I knew I wanted to be professor of theatre movement after VCU, so I started looking for a tenure track job. It did NOT happen.” As you can see from his graduation date, it was in the middle of the 2008 recession, “A couple years earlier there were many jobs, but they all dried up.”

Diego practices knife techniques at an SAFD Training with Fight Director Michael Jerome Johnson

So, it was off to NYC, for his “requisite artist time in the city.” This included seven different day jobs, including teaching for City University of New York (CUNY), “Trying to get as much experience as possible, I traveled two hours to Bayside, NY just to teach one class.”

Diego backstage as the understudy for Paco in a production at Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera. 2017

While in New York, he returned to Richmond for one of Dr. Tawnya Pettiford-Wates’ Conciliation Project productions. At the closing night party he met Dr. T’s daughter Amelia Wates, who was also a VCU grad but not theatre. They’re now married with three children: Aiden, Isla and Ezra.

Diego with his wife Amelia and two sons Aiden and Ezra
Diego’s daughter Isla loves to play dress-up

After five years, Dr. T told Diego about a program at the University of Pittsburg headed by Lisa Jackson – Schebetta (read her profile here). “I didn’t know Lisa, she graduated the semester before I entered VCU.” He had a week to apply and received a full ride for his PhD in Theatre and Performance Studies. “If Dr. T recommended studying under her, that’s all I needed to know.” Of his five years apprenticing under Lisa, Diego says, “she helped me understand theatre history, literature, criticism and Latin American performance.”

About his current position at The New College of Florida, Diego explains, “At a small school, it’s all hands on deck. I teach in a bunch of different areas. Sometimes watching Janet Rodgers coach comes to mind when I teach voice and speech. Working with students, a lot of writing is required and Noreen Barnes-McLain was integral in helping me understand how scholarship fit into an academic department. I never took a class with Dr. T, but she mentored me and allowed me to learn through being in the rehearsal room and watching her work.”

Diego Fight Directing VCU’s production of “Grapes of Wrath”. Directed by Dr. T

Compiled by Liz Hopper, professor emeritus, and Jerry Williams (BFA ’71) for the May 2021 Theatre Alumni Newsletter.