Cindy Melby Phaneuf

Profile By: Benjamin Divis


Part Five After Shakespeare

In August of 2009, Cindy stepped down as artistic director to pursue other interests. She has since turned her attention to another theatrical subject she has a wild passion for: female playwrights and bringing their work to the stage: “Only about 17-20% of plays in regional theatre and Broadway are written by women. The rest are by men but the women are going to the theatre. They go to the theatre more than men and certainly they’re over half of the population” (Interview 2013). Her statistics are confirmed by a study released the same year as Cindy’s retirement from Nebraska Shakespeare that brought this issue to the global theatre’s attention. Emily Glassberg Sands, who conducted and published the study, was startled by these results, but not nearly so much as when she determined the cause.

The process of bringing a script to the stage is a complex one, and it is indeed more challenging for women (Cohen). To show their support, the UNO Theatre Department has vowed to perform at least one play written by a woman every year. In 2011, Cindy directed a musical reimagining of Hamlet by the Obie Award winning Caridad Svich called 12 Ophelias. Svich worked closely with Cindy and the cast to bring her vision to the stage (Wilson). The following season, the department upped the ante by performing Mary Zimmerman’s Mirror of the Invisible World (directed by Cindy), Liz Duffy Adams’ Or, and Svich’s Archaeology of Dreams. “There’re a lot of great writers, and they write unusual things,” says Cindy, but the added challenge of directing something so abstract just makes her want to do it even more (Interview 2013). This new calling has enticed her, and until she leaves UNO—perhaps even afterward—Cindy will continue to bring as much attention to female playwrights and their work as she possibly can.

In the meantime, Cindy has been working with child psychiatrist, Howard Liu, on short films depicting mental health scenarios for the benefit of general practitioners in rural areas. These films educate them on mental patients and their behaviors. Cindy describes it as an “In Treatment” HBO show for doctors who may not have had previous experience with these situations and are therefore unable to professionally handle them. She supplies the actors and helps direct the films. “[It’s] been a lot of fun, making theatre have a practical use in the medical world” (Interview 2013).


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Part Six Cindy’s Legacy

Students and anyone who spends an extended time with Cindy can attest that her outgoing attitude is contagious. She sets goals for herself that some might consider outrageous and unrealistic, but Cindy has proven from her efforts that nothing could be farther from the truth. Whether she is bringing Shakespeare to the masses, revealing women playwrights for their brilliant minds, or pushing students to recognize their true talents, Cindy is constantly enriching the lives of those around her. Her own daughter seems to have inherited this attitude toward life. Kristin majored in international relations and is now working at Strategic Command. “She doesn’t want to join the Peace Corps and help a small village, one person at a time. She really wants to work on economic empowerment, something that lasts beyond the short-term” (Interview 2013). Since her return to Omaha,