Longtime BSC theatre professor receives high honor, shines spotlight on others
When Dan Rogers arrived on campus, the BSC theatre had been dark for a couple of years. During his 23 years as BSC’s Theatre professor, he took that nearly non-existent program and turned it into the most recognized and awarded two-year theatre program in the Midwest. He also received the Faculty Award of Excellence twice and several community awards for teaching. For his many accomplishments, Rogers has been named Professor Emeritus, a prestigious honor.
The magnitude of such an award is not missed on him, nor is it something for which he takes full credit. Rogers humbly points the spotlight on his students, fellow faculty and administration.
“This award means to me validation for the work that hundreds and hundreds of brave students, faculty, staff and administration did during this 23-year period,” said Rogers. “Every production is a collaborative effort involving 20-50 people. You can’t do this on your own.”
He reminisced about the 42 productions he directed while at BSC. “I’m most proud of the thing I’m most criticized or not liked for. For standing up for human rights and telling the stories that need to be told. That’s why I wanted this award, this recognition. I wanted it for a whole group of people who dared to be brave and tell different stories.”
There is a hallway at BSC where photographs of past productions are displayed. “I see a thousand brilliant, beautiful moments of students daring to risk and finding tremendous reward, expanding their horizons. Because of the way a snapshot can capture brilliant moments, beautiful moments, glimpses into their souls, it all comes back when I walk through that hallway year after year, time after time.”
Rogers expanded the theatre curriculum, started the Drama Club in 1993 and was a member of the ArtsQuest and Embracing Diversity committees. He also began participation in the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival (KCACTF), a national program that allows students at community colleges and universities to enter their work for institutional peer review. The festival also provides resume building and transfer opportunities. One of the greatest honors BSC Theatre received was to be invited to perform “The Laramie Project” at the Festival. BSC was one of the first colleges to perform the devised theatre production, which was still in manuscript form in 2001.
“We did many North Dakota premiers of successful award-winning new plays. In at least three cases, we were one of the first colleges in the country to do the play. I wanted to open up what the world of theatre is to the Bismarck-Mandan community, so I made ambitious play choices.”
Their first read-through of “The Laramie Project” manuscript was on Sept. 11, 2001. “It is so loaded, such a hard thing, all by itself, and we’re already loaded because of the day. The empathy in terms of innocent victims. We’re reading about this boy who was beaten, pistol whipped and hung on a fence, left there to die. It engaged me in the idea that theatre can provide a context for exploring social issues. Playwrights tell stories that give us a chance to stimulate urgently needed dialogue.”
Using theatre to shine the spotlight on human rights issues is one of Rogers’ greatest passions. While on a trip with his wife to Prague, he happened upon a theatre festival. “I saw the most moving, powerful, hit-me-in-the-gut, inventive, spectacular play I have ever seen.” The play, “In a Thousand Pieces,” was about sex trafficking and put on by The Paper Birds, an international, award-winning devised theatre company from London, England. Working with administration from BSC and the University of Mary, Rogers brought The Paper Birds to Bismarck in 2013 and 2014.
Giving of themselves to the greater good was another lesson Rogers instilled in his students. “We began to collaborate with people who would have a vested interest in the play we would be doing.” For “Nickel and Dimed,” seven local non-profits sponsored the shows. BSC Theatre, in turn, gave them some of the show’s proceeds. He said they did this for about half of the productions.
According to Rogers, the future of BSC Theatre is bright with Danny Devlin, Ph.D., at the helm. “What we needed was a huge infusion of vision and youth and vigor and brilliance. Each production explodes for me. They’re big, they’re bold, they’re exciting.”
Rogers’ contributions to the arts in North Dakota extends beyond BSC. In 2008, he helped establish Capitol Shakespeare, bringing free performances of Shakespeare and American Classic plays to Bismarck and Mandan. He has also worked with women in the North Dakota Adult & Teen Challenge addiction recovery program to develop a devised theatre presentation.
Since retiring in 2015, he has directed three shows for Dakota Stage Ltd. and one for Capitol Shakespeare. When he’s not watching or participating in live theatre, he and his wife, Marlene Anderson, BSC Library Services director, enjoy traveling and going to the movies. They are proud Mandan residents. Rogers is also an avid birder.