Cindy Melby Phaneuf

Profile By: Benjamin Divis

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Part Two Thespian in Training

TIMELINE

  • Two for the Seesaw

    Cindy playing Gittel in Two for the Seesaw by William Gibson

  • Elizabeth I

    Cindy as Mary, Queen of Scots in Elizabeth I by Paul Foster

  • Cindy and Gerry Engagement

  • Cindy and Gerry Wedding

Memories of Ms. Conrey’s kindness and dedication in elementary school motivated Cindy to become a teacher herself. She wanted to help younger people discover their talents just as Ms. Conrey had done for her. Near the end of high school, she was convinced that she wanted to teach second grade until a friend advised her to teach what she loved. Cindy took this advice to heart and left Omaha for Texas Christian University (TCU), where she studied modern dance and ballet.

However, her newfound interest in theatre was not to be ignored. Cindy still auditioned for productions at TCU and found herself engrossed in the teachings of Dr. George Sorensen who taught there. “I was entranced by him. I took every class that I could, took any part in any play he directed” (Interview 2013). Cindy recalls staying through entire rehearsals, which typically concluded in the late hours of the night, just to watch Sorensen work. “My part would be done, but I never wanted to leave” (Interview 2010). His influence would greatly impact her own work as a director later in life, but for the time, it was simply a strong argument that Cindy was majoring in the wrong profession.

She quickly discovered a deal-breaking difference between dance and theatre. When it came to theatre, there was no “right way” of doing things. There was much more freedom. Each script was open to interpretation and every actor, director, choreographer, set designer, costume designer, and crew member brought something new and unique to the production, “whereas with dancers, there was only one correct way to do things: go to the bar, plié, all of that” (Interview 2010). This clash of interests followed Cindy even outside of school, when she returned to Omaha to teach ballet classes during her summer vacations. Her first job at UNO was actually as the dance choreographer for The Sound of Music, directed by then-graduate student Lynn Broderick, in collaboration with Omaha Parks & Recreation (“‘Music’ on UNO Stage”). She then returned as a makeup assistant for Oliver the following year (Interview 2010). Cindy’s mind was finally made up during her pivotal junior year, when her schedule consisted of dance classes and nothing else. “I really missed the theatre,” she realized, and from then on, Cindy was a full-fledged theatre major under the mentorship of Dr. Sorensen (Interview 2010). She never turned her back on dance, though; instead, she found ways to incorporate it into her work, a practice she continues to this very day.

TCU still had more surprises for the up-and-coming director. One semester, she enrolled in a French class where a certain lab assistant named Gerry caught her eye. His warm personality, subtle East Coast dialect, and attention to students made him an anomaly amongst his peers. Gerry and Cindy became friends outside of class and soon started dating. Cindy earned her master’s degree in 1976, and in 1977, she and Gerry were married.

For her Ph.D., Cindy was given the opportunity to study directly under Dr. Sorensen, who was leaving TCU to teach elsewhere. Cindy accompanied him to Texas Tech, where together they started the university’s first doctoral theatre program as instructor and student (Interview 2013).

 

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Part Three Homecoming and Teaching

Even though she was raised in Omaha, Cindy had no intention of returning home. After earning her Ph.D., she and Gerry remained in Texas, where he worked as Director of Career Services at Texas Tech. Cindy got her first teaching job at Midwestern State, over four hours away. “I would leave Monday morning at five and go to my university in Wichita Falls, work all week, and Friday I would come home again” (Interview 2013). It was a trying time for both of them, but their luck changed two years later when Gerry was offered a job in Lincoln. Cindy found a faculty position opening at UNO and began teaching as assistant professor of dramatic arts in 1984. The couple found the comparatively short sixty-minute transit between cities much easier on themselves and their marriage.

Cindy had learned during college that