Audience members at the recent BGSU presentation of “A Christmas Carol” may not have realized that, in addition to the play, they were witnessing the end of an era. The production was the last to be directed by Dr. F. Scott Regan before his retirement this month from the Department of Theatre and Film.
Recruited in 1982 to take over the Treehouse Troupe, an undergraduate class devoted to performing children’s theatre throughout the region, Regan has provided opportunities for hundreds of University students and, since the formation of Horizon Youth Theatre in 1998, dozens of area children to learn theatre skills. Under his direction, they have performed everything from Shakespeare to musicals to classic fairy tales and world folk tales.
“‘A Christmas Carol’ is a fun thing to end with,” Regan said before the production. With its multi-age cast, “it’s a combination of Treehouse Troupe and Horizon.”
Reflecting on his career, he said, “The contact with students is what I enjoy most, from directing the plays to advising—we have fairly small classes—and following them through the years and seeing them grow up.”
“He loves to work with young people,” said Dr. Jo Beth Gonzalez, who co-founded Horizon Youth Theatre with Regan. “There’s something about him that goes right to the passion of the imagination. It’s that ability and his capacity for delight in the power of the imagination that enables him to connect with kids, I think.”
Regan’s office bulletin board and computer screen saver attest to the many youngsters who have come up through the ranks with him, many of them children of BGSU faculty. In fact, Brandy Tell, daughter of Deborah Tell of the dance program, had a lead role in “A Christmas Carol.”
This fall, Regan was presented the 2006 Lin Wright Special Recognition Award from the American Alliance for Theatre and Education for his work in youth theatre. The award honors persons “who have established special programs, developed experimental work, made a distinctive educational contribution or provided meritorious service, thus furthering theatre and drama for young people.”
Children’s theatre on the road
“Treehouse Troupe is a major part of my responsibility and a major part of my fun,” Regan said. “It gives me the chance to write, to direct and to tour. And there’s the clear sense of the students’ getting good training and the kids in the rural schools getting something they might not see otherwise.”
The troupe was originally begun by a graduate student as a master’s degree project and was recognized by the University as a valuable educational outreach. In his 25 years as its director, Regan has put on upward of 1,200 performances, bringing theatre to more than 300,000 schoolchildren from Temperance, Mich., to Kelleys Island, Ohio.
In the process, the University students get a fairly accurate taste of life in the theatre.
“One of the unique things about it is that, with touring, you learn to adapt to different spaces,” Regan said. “Also, unlike a high school play that runs for maybe a couple of weekends, you get used to the long run. You have to learn to keep it fresh and how to keep going on days when you might not be feeling well.”
Regan said he has only canceled one show in 25 years due to an actor’s illness—and that person was in the hospital. “I have had to step in a few times, though,” he added.
In addition to performing, the Treehouse Troupe actors give workshops in the schools they visit.
“Getting to go into the classrooms and teach workshops tells them a lot about themselves as performers and a lot about themselves as human beings,” Regan said. There have been times that students have discovered their true calling is not acting but teaching, he said. “I consider that a success. I may have lost a major, but I’ve helped someone find their direction.”
From building sets and costumes and rehearsing, to the eight-hour days on the road performing, a bond develops between the cast members, and between them and Regan. “College students remember it as one of their prominent experiences,” he said.
A turning point
It was in college that Regan decided to make theatre his profession. “I always knew I wanted to be a teacher,” he said, and he had planned to major in history while at the State University of New York at Albany. “Theatre was a hobby. But I distinctly remember one day after we’d been working all day in the scene shop building a set, the faculty member said, ‘Let’s go have a beer.’ So we went, and I remember sitting there thinking here we were sitting together on a first-name basis, and what a sense of togetherness there was. I decided then I would go into the theatre. And by grad school I knew I wanted to do children’s theatre.”
The Albany experience was not his first engagement with drama, however. As a high school sophomore, he founded a community theatre in his upstate New York hometown, audaciously asking the town school board for funding. “We did Ibsen, Shakespeare, Sartre. I’d hate to go back now and see what those productions looked like,” he said, chuckling.
After getting his Ph.D. at the University of Minnesota, Regan and his wife, Diane (who also works at BGSU), moved to White Bear Lake, Minn., where for a year they ran a small community theatre. Though the profits and income were low, he gained valuable experience overseeing all aspects of keeping the enterprise going, from building sets to hiring directors to doing publicity.
Following five years at the University of Northern Iowa, the Regans came to BGSU. Since then, in addition to children’s productions, he has directed 52 shows for the theatre department and three for the Toledo Repertoire Theatre—where he is now preparing to do Noel Coward’s “Fallen Angels.” He also plans to direct a show at the Huron Playhouse this summer.
In the academic arena, Regan has researched and written on the pedagogy and development of theatre for youth, and has presented his work around the country. He has served as a national officer of the American Association for Theatre in Education and has been a journal editor.
He has also written adaptations of many plays and musicals, in addition to three original works.
Among these, he counts an original musical titled “Irish Annie” as a favorite. The tale of an 1880s immigrant to the United States, it is based on his own heritage and deals with contemporary social issues of immigration and prejudice. The play has been produced in Tempe, Ariz., and Regan hopes to launch more productions as a steppingstone to having it published.
Otherwise, “my favorite play is always the one I’m working on now,” he said. “You fall in love with the play and with the people.”
In 1998, in response to community requests for a children’s theatre, Regan and Gonzalez, drama teacher at Bowling Green High School, founded Horizon Youth Theatre. Open to anyone under 18, it offers summer workshops in Shakespeare—complete with sword-fighting classes—technical theatre skills, improvisation and movie-making, as well as acting and directing. Regan has now produced 11 shows with the group.
Gonzalez, who has known Regan since he was her Ph.D. dissertation advisor, said he shares her passionate belief that youth theatre contributes to the overall well-being of the community and has the power to change society.
“He’s very conscientious about what’s important for kids and has a clear sensibility about where it’s safe for them to go, both physically and creatively,” she said.
Regan is especially proud of some productions co-written by Horizon and high school students and used by Bowling Green Junior High School. They addressed such issues as anger management, girls’ body images and, in a production Regan particularly recalled, peer pressure. “I thought it was very powerful,” he said.
In Horizon, students get rigorous training in theatre as well as life skills, such as respect and responsibility, Regan said. “My rule is no parents backstage. The goals and the expectations become the parent.” He also pairs each younger child with an older student, which has resulted in some enduring friendships.
He recalled an instance when a young performer fainted onstage and a member of the lighting crew calmly stepped in to fill the role. “Of course, you just bubble with pride when these things happen,” he said.
Regan is writing an adaptation of “Little Women” for the company to fulfill “a promise I made to these kids who’ve grown up with me.” The play will be performed at the Pemberville Opera House.
Though he is retiring from his full-time job in the department, the campus and community will continue to see Regan’s work for some time to come.