Baraboo campus welcomes theater professor

November 9, 2018

Damian Ernest is eager to acquaint himself with Baraboo’s theatrical community, but at the moment he’s busy teaching three courses, directing a fall play, building a set -- and figuring out where to shop.

“I’ve heard good things about the theater scene here, and I’m looking forward to being part of it,” he said.

Ernest was transferred to the University of Wisconsin-Platteville Baraboo Sauk County this fall from UW-Marshfield/Wood County. He has served as an instructor at colleges in Iowa and Kansas, and is teaching theater and public speaking classes while directing the local campus’ fall comedy, “The Dining Room.”

“As a permanent full-time faculty member, Professor Ernest will have the opportunity to build up the program and engage the community more fully,” said Ed Janairo, the campus dean.

Ernest is the campus theater program’s fourth director in as many years. Lauren Love energized the program before leaving for a community college in Washington state in 2016. James Wagoner and Tom McEvilly each spent a year on campus before Ernest was brought in.

“I think it’s a good community and a good campus and I feel really welcomed here,” Ernest said. “I’m still trying to decide where to buy groceries.”

Trained in acting, directing and writing, Ernest was inspired to go into education by his English teacher and drama coach. “I felt compelled,” he said. “I didn’t know if I’d be any good at it.”

Ernest earned a bachelor’s degree in English education and a master’s in writing, both from Northern Michigan University. He went on to get a master of fine arts in theater from the University of Idaho. He previously taught at Waldorf College in Forest City, Iowa; Highland Community College in Highland, Kansas; and the University of Idaho in Moscow, Idaho. He has written five plays and boasts theatrical credits as an actor, director and designer.

“Professor Ernest brings a significant level of technical theater expertise with him,” Janairo said. “We already see this in the set his students and he have built for ‘The Dining Room.’”

Ernest and a cast of eight will stage A.R. Gurney’s comedy about vanishing traditions Nov. 15-18 in the campus theater. Not yet knowing the student body in his first fall on campus, Ernest chose a play with a flexible cast. His is comprised almost entirely of students. “We don’t have any weak links in this cast,” he said.

“I love working with him because of his attention to detail,” said student cast member Emily DeSanto. “He has a great eye and really knows how to make a mean set!”

Meanwhile, he’s teaching a theater lab, an introductory theater course and a course in public speaking. Ernest said he finds the classroom as exciting as the stage. “The electricity in the classroom is wonderful,” he said.

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