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Brian Thorstenson
Brian Thorstenson named SCU’s 2023-25 Frank Sinatra Chair in the Performing Arts

A long-time professor in the Department of Theatre and Dance will kick off a new era of the Sinatra Residency.

Brian Thorstenson, a writer, educator, and theater-maker from San Francisco who has taught at Santa Clara University for 21 years, has been named the 2023-25 Frank Sinatra Chair in the Performing Arts.

As SCU’s first internal Sinatra Artist-in-Residence since the program was revitalized in 2016, Thorstenson will be developing and implementing a Devised Theater project with visiting artists—a well-respected Bay Area devised dance-theater ensemble. A workshop-style course, open to students from all majors across the University, including those without prior theatre or dance experience, is planned for Winter 2025. This will be accompanied by a course in Spring 2025 for the rehearsal and performance of the devised piece, which will be performed as part of the Department of Theatre and Dance's mainstage season. Throughout the creation, rehearsal, and performance process, students will have the opportunity to fill a variety of roles including writing, designing, documenting, researching, composing, acting, and dancing, among others.

“I'm particularly excited to have our students experience first-hand the rigorous generosity of our visiting artists,” said Thorstenson. “My hope is to gather a widely diverse group of students from across the university in creating a multi-faceted performance event.”

Outside of the two courses, students will have the opportunity to be involved through afternoon workshops, panels, and class visits. Thorstenson not only wants to create immersive theater with students but wants to enhance their sense of belonging here at SCU. “We know how important it is for our students to see themselves reflected in our curriculum,” he says. “I plan to cultivate an inclusive learning environment through both the content and leadership of the class. Students who feel they belong not only do better academically, it sets them on the path to realizing their full potential as people.”

Devised theater is not new to Santa Clara. The Anima Collective, previously called Charisma, has been going on for over 20 years. Thorstenson, himself, has designed and led four classes that resulted in four mainstage productions over the years. However, “most devised work is either text driven or movement driven,” says Thorstenson. “All of the devised work that I’ve made at SCU thus far has been text driven. There is always a useful tension in learning how to combine these two elements.” This project will bring in more movement, providing another opportunity to explore this balancing act.

“This project, and most of the vision for this collaboration, blends nicely into the Department's focus on collaborative, innovative, timely, and inclusive creative performance projects that allow our students to exercise the skills we've been developing in classes,” says Kim Mohne Hill, chair of the Department of Theatre and Dance at SCU.

Interested in including immersive theater as a regular part of the curriculum and the season, Mohne Hill states, “I think that immersive theater at SCU will address a need we have been discovering in our field over the past 10 years or audiences want to engage with the work in a different, more present way. This kind of engagement, we hope, builds a sense of awe, a sense of magic, a sense of community, and a sense of belonging.”

Since 2016, the Sinatra Chair has been awarded to well-known performing artists for on-campus visits and public performances that engage students in theatre arts, dance, music, creative writing, and television, and raises the profile of SCU’s performing arts programs. This year, the Sinatra Residency enters a new phase that will honor the original intent of the endowment while responding to the current needs of SCU’s performing arts departments.

“As the Performing Arts and Santa Clara University have evolved, so has our vision for the endowment,” says Daniel Press, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, where the Sinatra Chair resides. “We feel this new format will have a meaningful impact on our students, faculty and staff, allowing for a more in-depth and lasting experience.”

With the continued goal of fostering the artist’s personal and professional interest, the Sinatra Residency will support a current faculty member and their creative collaboration with a visiting artist (or artists) over a two-year period. This will enhance the student experience through involvement in the creative process, raise the profile of the performing arts at SCU, and contribute to the interdisciplinary arts and humanities community on campus.

“Our hope is that by facilitating longer-term engagement with visiting artists, the creative imagination of our community will be activated in new and exciting ways,” says Press.

Beginning in 2024-25, two faculty will hold the Chair concurrently; one in their first planning year, and one executing their creative collaboration with their chosen visiting artist. In order to complement these projects with an influx of talented performing arts students, a select number of partial scholarships will be awarded to majors in music, theatre, and dance.

About the Frank Sinatra Chair in the Performing Arts

The Frank Sinatra Chair in the Performing Arts was established in 1980 with initial funds from the proceeds of the 14th Annual Golden Circle Theatre Party, headlined by Frank Sinatra. Sinatra Artists-in-Residence energize the arts at Santa Clara University, inspiring our students and bringing life to our mission in a way that is tangible: experiencing the reality and thinking critically about the world in order to emphasize and engage constructively. Previous Chairs include Mark Duplass, BD Wong, Rhiannon GiddensTaye Diggs, W. Kamau Bell, Anna Deavere Smith, and Silk Road Ensemble.