Cindy Melby Phaneuf

Profile By: Benjamin Divis

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Part Three Homecoming and Teaching

TIMELINE

  • Started teaching at UNO

    Assistant Professor of dramatic arts.

  • Offutt Sullivan Award for Outstanding Teachin

  • Diamond Distinguished Professorship

  • Alumni Outstanding Teaching Award for the College of Fine Arts

  • Nomination for Best Director

    A Midsummer Night’s Dream earned her a nomination for Best Director (Play) from the Omaha Entertainment Awards (Martin).

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 she preferred directing to acting. It gave her more power over the production even if it meant she was busy every minute of every day until the last curtain fell (Interview 2010). Her skills were put to the test at UNO, where she taught acting classes during the day and directed rehearsals at night. Although male actors and directors outnumbered their female counterparts when Cindy arrived, she never felt like she was at a gender-based disadvantage. “UNO’s a very supportive place to work,” she says (Interview 2013). However, still young and learning the ropes, Cindy tried to compensate by preparing her productions well in advance. In other fields, this would be a wise decision, but for the immediate theatre, too much planning could be fatal. There are simply too many unknown factors for the director to consider before the first rehearsal, something Cindy quickly learned. “Sitting around doing research only gets you so far,” she notes (Interview 2013). During this time, she became familiar with the work of famed Shakespearean director, Peter Brook, whose writings about the theatre are still quoted by directors and instructors worldwide. His words of wisdom reassured Cindy that her discovery was in fact correct: “The first rehearsal is always to a degree the blind leading the blind… the director who comes to the first rehearsal with his script prepared with moves and business, etc., noted down, is a real deadly theatre man” (Brook 129-130). Cindy has since taken a freer, more organic approach to her productions, which she feels has always worked in her favor, and Brook’s book, The Empty Space, has become her bible.

Ever since she began teaching at UNO, Cindy has directed at least one play a year. Her 2009 production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream earned her a nomination for Best Director (Play) from the Omaha Entertainment Awards (Martin). As a teacher of acting, directing, and dramatic theory, Cindy has received the Offutt Sullivan Award for Outstanding Teaching in 1996 (Proskocil), the Alumni Outstanding Teaching Award for the College of Fine Arts in 2001 (Kuclrek), and the University Excellence in Teaching Award in 2004. She earned her Diamond Distinguished Professorship in 1996 and has since been awarded the Isaacson Professorship twice. Her seventeen-year-old self might have been wrong about her future as a dance instructor but her seven-year-old self was right about one thing: Cindy was going to become an inspiring educator for countless people. “Teaching is an absolute pleasure for me. I love the students here” (Interview 2013).

 

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Part Four Omaha’s Champion of the Bard

While still a dance major at TCU, Cindy was a soundboard operator for a production of Sleep by Sam Smiley. Its director, a graduate student named Alan Klem, captured her attention immediately with his commanding presence and mesmerizing methods. “I actually fell out of my stool by just studying his every move” (Interview 2013). After earning his master’s degree, Alan left TCU and worked as a founder and artistic director of Shakespeare in the Park in Fort Worth, Texas. It was a huge success, “one of the larger summer festivals in the country” before it was discontinued (Nebraska Shakespeare). When he found himself teaching at Creighton, Alan was approached by then-chairman, Don Doll to do it all again in Omaha. He learned that his former pupil, Cindy, was working at UNO and attended her 1985 production of Eugene O’Neil’s A