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75th Anniversary: Alumni Profiles

Patricia VandenBerg '73

I attended grad school at the University of Michigan, where I received my M.A. in communications and my Ph.D. in theater history and criticism.  I became a professor, teaching at Hope and then Calvin, where I headed the theater program from 1986 through 1993. (It was fun teaching with my esteemed former professors. And I adored my students—you know who you are!)  I then moved to Amherst, Massachusetts, where I still live. I am currently on the faculty of the theater department  at Mount Holyoke College, the oldest women’s college in the world, and the first of the “Seven Sisters,” the female equivalent of the formerly all-male Ivy League.

As a side note: Mount Holyoke is living proof that when women are expected to achieve, they do! Since 1837 the college’s graduates have taken leadership positions in every field imaginable—including traditionally male-dominated fields such as science, math, and government. As for theater, MHC has produced two Pulitzer-winning playwrights—Wendy Wasserstein and Suzan-Lori Parks.

While I still teach an occasional theater honors tutorial, I have moved primarily into administration, serving as Mount Holyoke’s executive director of communications and strategic initiatives. I also do communications consulting, serving clients in both the corporate and not-for-profit sectors.

I have two splendid daughters, a husband, who is a professor of theater at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and a very small pooch, named “Liefje.”  (For those of you not fluent in Dutch, that means, “little beloved,” or “sweetie.”)

Theater has either been my professional work, or has informed it.  This continues to be the case.

Having been reared a good Dutch Calvinist, I believe “work is worship,” and labor with vigor! Having become uncomfortable with the idea that any one religion holds the corner on truth, I have chosen to work in an academic community that actively supports nine faith groups, and I find the open exchange of ideas and the ability to respect and celebrate difference exhilarating.  I continue to worship in an “open and affirming” Congregational church, which is committed to social justice.

There were so many splendid moments of theater at Calvin—and delightful times with fellow Thespians. Some of my favorites are associated with all that I learned about Shakespeare through Mrs. B’s production of  “Macbeth,” in which I had the pleasure of playing Lady Macbeth. A funny by-product of having been in numerous productions is a  Pavlovian response I developed to hearing the Calvin Alma Mater:  Some of you may recall that before every mainstage production it was the tradition to play the Alma Mater.  At those moments I was often in the wings, waiting in a heightened state to make my entrance.   Inevitably when I heard the Alma Mater I had the urge to pee.  To this day, when I hear that familiar song, I still get the urge!

Secondary

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Patricia Vandenberg

Patricia's advice for actors

If you want to go into theater professionally, get a good liberal arts education, and then get your training in professional classes, a conservatory, or an MFA program. For all the rest of you, who do theater just for the love of it, you too will be well-served. You will find your liberal arts education invaluable.  It teaches you to think critically and communicate well, preparing you for the range of  jobs you will have in the future, many of which have not yet been invented. As for your theater experience, you will find that it is a great preparation for life and work of any sort.  You learn to work well in teams and deliver on deadline. You also learn to solve problems creatively.  Besides all that, you develop a greater appreciation of  art, ideas, and culture -- and have tons of happy memories to boot!