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Chris Burnett becomes interim chair of CSULB’s theater department

Josh Kang, Staff Writer

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With the search for a permanent chair still ongoing, Chris Burnett, a longtime professor at California State University, Long Beach, has readily stepped in to fill the void left in the university’s theater department.

Burnett, a former chair of the journalism department at CSULB, took over as interim chair at the start of the month.

The Daily 49er spoke to Burnett about his new position, the crossover between departments and his goals for the 2015-2016 school year.

How did you become interim chair of the theater department? Was it something you applied for or were you approached about it?

I got a call in June from the College of the Arts, asking if I was interested in stepping in. The department of journalism recommended me and after some meetings and an interview with Dean Cyrus Parker-Jeannette, I got the job in early August.

Do you have a background in the arts or experience with theater?

My background in the arts is pretty dated right now. When I was in high school and college I played the trumpet in the marching band. I grew up in Ohio and in that part of the country being in the marching band is a big deal because it goes with football; it’s the unofficial sport and religion of the state… If can be modest, I was actually pretty good: first chair.

As interim chair of the department, what does your job entail and what are your responsibilities?

Basically, it involves serving as the one who advocates for students and works with faculty to keep the department running as best as possible while they do a national search for a permanent chair… This past week we had our first meeting, and I’ve been gradually immersing myself into it. I’m just trying to get to know people because a big part of being chair or being part of any program is understanding the personalities of those you work with.
Were you at all intimidated about the new job and do you find any similarities between journalism and theater?

I wouldn’t call it intimidation, more nervousness. I’m working in an area that I’m obviously uncomfortable with, but at the same time I’m really excited. The thing that helps anybody grow is taking on new challenges… Theater and journalism actually have a lot in common. Journalists write about things that are occurring in the world. In theater you’re acting or working back stage and producing work sometimes about real issues. While theater is technically fiction and journalism involves fact there is a lot of mix and ultimately both professions give students an opportunity to learn through doing… It’s not the same sitting in a lecture hall, reading books and writing papers. Both have practical applications and it’s going to be helpful for whatever you end doing.

Do you have any goals as interim chair for the upcoming year?

I hope a lot of students take advantage of the theater program because a great thing about being on a college campus is that you have these cultural opportunities, so even if you’re not taking it as a class, I highly recommend students to attend. One of the best parts of being the chair and a professor is talking to students and not just in class. You know, not necessarily hearing myself talk, but hearing what students have to say… This is going to be a new one for me, but I think it will be memorable and help expand my universe. In journalism you get a chance to meet a lot of interesting people, and I feel that the theater faculty and students will be just as interesting or maybe even more so.


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