Alum spotlight: John DeBoer (MFA ’07)

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John DeBoer (MFA in Voice and Speech, 2007)

When John was working in the Theatre Department’s office, his organizational skills and talent for teaching prompted professor Janet Rogers to declare, “I was going to be the dean someday.” Sure enough, in 2019, John became Interim Dean of the College of the Arts and Media at the University of Montana.

John in Volume of Smoke at VCU, 2007

When John was in undergrad at Indiana University, he tried several majors, but kept coming back to theatre. He became interested in a graduate degree in voice and speech and VCU was one of the few programs with a Masters program. So, John left the Midwest for a bigger, more diverse city, “Richmond is where I became an adult.”

John in Little Dog Laughs at Barksdale

Although John never considered himself an actor, he actually earned his Equity card while in school working in a production of Little Dog Laughs at Barksdale, right before the theatre became a part of Virginia Rep.

John in Visiting Mr. Green (RTP, 2008)

After graduation, John took numerous jobs, eventually ending up at the University of Montana. One of his accomplishments was to establish a Musical Theatre Program for the department.

Looking back on his VCU influences, “Janet Rogers taught me how one could be authoritative and totally goofy in the same breath. I have tried to take that with me. There should be a place where fun can happen, even when I need to make sure things get done.”

John has continued to act, including a trip to China, where he played Boo Radley and served as vocal coach for the Montana Repertory Theatre’s tour of To Kill a Mockingbird. One time an actor got a concussion and John had to jump and take his role as the wrestler in “As You Like It” with two days notice!

University of Montana production of Angels in America

Last year, his department had just opened Spring Awakening, when the school was shut down for COVID. “It was pretty devastating. We had to work remotely for the rest of the semester.” While they were shut down, the Department produced She Kills Monsters (which our own department staged last semester). They also adapted Six Degrees of Separation for Zoom and staged a live production of Mother Courage with everyone in masks. Two of his graduate students wrote and acted in an original musical, Welcome to the Void. They performed without masks and John stood behind a plexiglass shield to direct them.

John (far left) as Dean at the University of Montana Spring Commencement in 2019

John finds it most rewarding “to watch young people learn how to figure things out on their own. When a student is ready to say ‘I don’t know’ and then test a possible answer without any prompting from me, that’s when I know I’ve done what I need to do. A teacher can’t teach everything, so to see them become self-sufficient in the learning process is a wonderful thing to see.”

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