by Madalyn Johnson, Asst. A&E Editor
James Caldwell is the new theater director at Manhattan College. Along with filling in huge shoes as the new director of MC Players, he also plays an active role in the Visual and Performing Arts program, teaching classes such as History of the Broadway Musical, Acting Skills and Techniques and Introduction to Theater.
Caldwell shared how he grew up and first went to school in the midwest.
“I grew up in Indiana, Northern Indiana, small town. I actually grew up around Amish people. Lots of buggies on the road, I had an Amish nanny,” he said.
Caldwell first studied music in Illinois before arriving in New York to continue his education.
“I went to two different colleges. I went to Millikin University in Decatur, Illinois,” Caldwell said. “I was a musical theater performance major there and then I finished my undergrad at C.W. Post on Long Island and I graduated with a BFA in acting training, in the Suzuki method which is this really cool Japanese physical training. I trained with a city company in New York in that method. A lot of people think it’s the violin thing but it’s not, it’s much different and I went to Columbia and got my MFA in playwriting.”
In high school, Caldwell performed in many musicals including “Godspell,” “The Secret Garden” and “South Pacific.” In college, he performed in “The Pirates of Penzance” and some Shakespeare plays.
“I just love live performance, I love being involved, I love the collaborative aspect of theater,” he said. “Everybody has some small part and they’re building this beautiful thing that is ephemeral that doesn’t last forever and our emotion and our thought, every aspect of ourselves go into this project. The feeling of that was maybe even addictive because I didn’t pursue any other outlets or any other roads and through the minute I starting doing it that this where I want to spend my life.”
Caldwell found out about the position through the previous MC players director Martin Marchitto, by being a part of a national theater program that focuses on college theater in which they attend different schools’ plays and musicals. James met Martin when Manhattan College performed.
“I am involved with KCACTF which is the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival. It’s about theater education in colleges and we hold regional and national festivals offering all kinds of awards, lots of student involvement,” Caldwell said. “One of the things we do is go to colleges in our region and watch the shows and I actually came here and saw one of the shows and that’s how I meet Marty and became friends with him and when the position opened up he reached out to me.”
Caldwell discussed the significance and pros of teaching theater at a college so close to the big apple and what means for students passionate about the art.
“The quality of talent that’s available in terms of who else is going to work on this show professionally like choreographers, designers can’t really be matched anywhere else,” he said. “Plus the experience the students can get from seeing shows on Broadway ups their game. It grows your imagination because you can see such great things, you’re like I can do this too I can be more like this how can I reach this level.”
Since joining the Manhattan College community, Caldwell has felt he is teaching students who are eager and truly love the performing arts, given that theater is a minor.
“The people in this program are minors but they approach it with the same level of passion as if they were majors. At least that’s how it seems so far,” he said.
Just beginning his first semester of teaching at MC, Caldwell wants students to know that performing is something that cannot always be done flawlessly and it requires a lot of interest, time and effort from the students.
“Theater, no matter what position you’re working at within this art, it’s never something that can be perfected,” he said. “There are just too many balls you have to juggle and so entering this, a career or being a part of it, you have to kind of acknowledge that every experience you enter, you have to approach it new. There are few things you can stand on, a few fundamental things but you have to be ready to learn and enter every production with lots of curiosity, lots of determination and you have to be willing to give all of yourself.”