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Professor, Theatre Department (Department of Performing Arts)

Professor Emeritus

2020

Bio:

Professor Arthur Beer’s extensive career has been as an academician, writer, actor, and director.  Mark Denham, Dean, College of Liberal Arts and Education wrote in his nomination support letter “Over his 65 years of professional life he counts over 220 plays produced or directed, over 220 roles, and innumerable plays with which he was associated in other roles.  Almost hidden in his CV is a notation that he has been writing plays and scripts for 65 years, including 45 original plays and adaptions, many of them published.”

 

Joining the University of Detroit (now University of Detroit Mercy) as an Assistant Professor of Theatre in 1977, he earned promotion to Associate Professor in 1984, and full Professor in 1989.  Professor Beer also has served as Director of Drama, Thiel College, Greenville Pennsylvania, Director of Drama, Jacksonville University, Jacksonville Florida, Instructor in Speech, Wayne State University, Detroit Michigan, Director of Drama, Athens Centre for the Arts, Athens Greece, and Guest Artist, Performing Arts, UD/Marygrove College, Detroit Michigan.

 

Professor Beer earned a Bachelor of Arts in English and Speech from DePauw University (1956), a Master of Arts in Speech (Theatre) from University of Michigan (1957), and a Ph.D. in Theatre from Wayne State University, Detroit Michigan (1972).  Dean Denham’s nomination support letter recognized “It is important to note that most academics who teach and create in the field of the performing arts, earn the degree of Master of Fine Arts.  This is almost universally considered proper preparation for faculty positions in performing arts programs.  Dr. Beer earned the MA and the PhD, and the impact of these degrees is evident in all of his work.  Dr. Beer’s extensive experience on the stage, behind the curtain and in the classroom are all informed by his careful research.”

 

During his time at Detroit Mercy, Professor Beer taught Speech, Introduction to Theatre, Acting, Acting Styles (including Classic Tragedy, Shakespeare, Commedia & Farce, High Comedy), Voice and Diction, Vocal Interpretation, Foreign Accents and Dialect, Theatre History (early and modern), Stage Movement, Directing, Classic Drama, Origins of Drama, Body Electrics and Classic Sites of Peloponesse and Mainland Greece.  His vitae notes his prior academic experiences also covers teaching English, Creative Writing, and Play Production.

 

The writer of the emeritus nomination letter documented “During his first three years as a Guest Artist with the Department of Performing Arts at Detroit Mercy, Art Beer appeared in eight major roles and directed five major productions, as well as inaugurating the Study Abroad in Greece program, introducing course work in Accents and Dialects, Bioenergetics, Classic Acting, Commedia dell Arte and Fine Arts.  He also founded and edited the department’s weekly paper, “The Protagonists,” and introduced annual student directed one-acts.”

 

Over his 45-year career at Detroit Mercy, “Dr. Beer has appeared in 49 roles on campus, directed 53 major production (as well as 5 touring one acts, and 25 classic plays in Greece as part of the 20 year Detroit Mercy study abroad program) and written five plays which received their world premieres on campus…”

 

A faculty member’s responsibilities includes quality teaching, scholarship, service, and participation in professional activities.  Teaching in the traditional sense is done in the classroom or now online.  For a faculty member in the performing arts teaching also takes place when directing a performance, helping to develop set designs, directions for best lighting, etc.  With Professor Beer’s involvements in live stage productions and performances, teaching and student learning was multi-facet and offered many ongoing opportunities.

 

People who traveled to Greece to study Greek theatre under the tutelage of Professor Beer expressed their appreciation of the experience.  One wrote “I’d like to thank you for the incredible opportunity.  The Classical Theatre tour meant so much to me and I’ve learned volumes about myself, my art and my world.  As an actor I feel I’ve been challenged like never before.  The show and the magnificent backdrop of Greece fueled an incredible life-fire among the group.  So many times during the tour through Epidauros, Argos, Corinth, Delphi I felt the ancient gods smiling down on us.  At each stop you could see a change in someone, whether it was appreciation for the character they played, a moment of reverence for the history enveloping us, or the discovery of something within themselves.  The Classical Theatre tour surpassed my expectations tenfold and I consider this summer a turning point in my life.  I have grown as an actor, a woman, and a human being.  I returned to the States with a new attitude and a fully nourished confidence about my talent and my life.”

 

A second attendee expressed appreciation in writing “I think the foremost reason the Spetses program is successful is its structure, which has been uniquely designed around Greek culture.  We may have spent 8-10 hours a day studying and rehearsing theatre, but it never seemed like much more than 3 or 4 hours.  By starting the day with class, taking a mid-day break, then returning to rehearsals, our lives became theatre.  Even during break students and professionals continued to memorize lines, rehearse songs, and learn dance….From an educational standpoint this program is obviously one of a kind, but there are additional bonuses that made it one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.  My eagerness was constantly growing because the passion Arthur [Beer] and Mary [Bremer] have for their work permeates all they do.  While in Greece they held us to high expectations and demanded that we put forth consistent effort, but they also knew the importance of balancing study with enjoying the beauties of Greece.  They took us on personal tours of caves, treks across the island, snorkeling adventures, and even theatre performances.  These experiences inspired our work in the same manner they must have influenced ancient Greek Performers and audiences.”

 

Teaching moments which occurred in 1986 resulted in the Detroit Free Press awarding the Best Play of the Season and Best Director honors to Professor Beer for the stage production of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?  Insight into Professor Beer’s teaching moments and his process in directing the production were found in the goals he set for the production:

 

Academic scholarship usually leads to publications of journal articles or books, patents, poster presentations, or conference proceedings.  In the field of theatre, research can result in many of these but theatre research also definitely encompasses the background needed for writing or editing a play production.  Dean Denham spoke to Professor Beer’s scholarship through authoring plays, writing “One of these is Malice Aforethought: The Sweet Trials.  The work was commissioned by the University of Detroit for the Michigan Sesquicentennial and received grants from the Michigan Council for the Humanities and The Michigan Council for the Arts.  In writing this historical drama Dr. Beer reports having “amassed more than 2000 hours of commentary, testimony, depositions and newspaper articles” and it included a “research journey that led [him] from the Burton Historical Collection, through the University Law Library [Wayne State University] to the basement of the police department, and through some 25 books by and about those who had participated in the original events.”” 

 

The Malice Aforethought: the Sweet Trials performance brochure provided a summary of the play.  “Malice Aforethought captures the essence of the civil rights landmark Sweet Trials (1925-1926) in which Dr. Ossian Sweet, a prominent black Detroit physician was charged with murder of a white man, defended by noted attorney Clarence Darrow, and acquitted by all-white jury in the courtroom of Judge Frank Murphy.”

 

In a Brief History of the Malice Aforethought: the Sweet Trials researched and written by Professor Beer he comments “In a work of fiction, the writer is always hoping the words will come.  My problem was deciding how to eliminate most of them.  The first draft was 160 pages and would have run four hours on stage.  Darrow’s summation speech, reproduced in several books, is a good example of my quandary.  In the first place, there are two summation speeches, since there were two trials.  Each of the speeches took about seven hours to deliver.  Since I was going to be playing Darrow myself, I made sure that my first draft reduced them to four and seven minutes respectively.  The director then eliminated the first and told me to cut the second to under four minutes.  This kind of brutal editing was very painful but, for stage purposes, essential.”

 

Another significant production written by Professor Beer was Jordon Anderson Writes a Letter.  The new play was announced as a special production to be premiered at the Charles H. Wright African American Museum in Detroit.  “In celebration of the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation the Theatre Company of University of University of Detroit is pleased to announce the world premiere of the multimedia docudrama production Jordan Anderson Writes a Letter by Dr. Arthur J. Beer.  The production was created to be shared with young audiences in school environments.”

 

A summary of the production was provided in the announcement. “After the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, Jordan Anderson and his family fled their Tennessee master’s plantation to find a new life in Dayton, Ohio under the mentorship of the great abolitionist, Valentine Winters.  Their courageous journey from Tennessee slavery to Ohio freedom was later challenged by the demands of his former master to return home.  Jordan Anderson assisted by Winters, responds to the letter of his former master with a letter of his own.  The result is a human lesson in compassion, defiance and dignity.”

 

The nomination also addresses the issue of research.  “In the field of Theatre “research” is more frequently work on a production than published material.  This is especially true when the play is new and does not have a production history.  In the past eight years [years prior to 2020] alone, Dr. Beer has directed seven Michigan or world premieres.  However, unlike most directors, he has also written twelve original full length plays, 15 one acts, and adapted 18 classics.  Each of these counts as a major published research project.  Finally, his experiences in Greece have led him to collect nine of his adaptations, with notes on history and production, and advice to directors on successfully producing classic plays.  This work should be published next year [2021].

 

The performance of Professor Beer’s plays are numerous.  Some examples are: two collegiate productions of original drama Backwater; six collegiate productions of adaption of A Servant of Two Masters; adaptation of Peer Gynt at Florida Theatre Festival; eight touring productions of adaptation of The Trojan Women, seven touring productions of The Bacchae, four each of Lysistrata and The Birds, three each of The Frogs and The Long Way Home; one each of Agamemnon, Antigone, Congress of Women, Death of a Blind Old Man, Democracy, Electra, The Furies and more.

 

Professor Beer’s professional activities involved many community outreach projects.  The nomination addresses these projects with “Every year, Dr. Beer has engaged in outreach projects, such as touring one act plays to area high schools, bringing student commedia troupes to the Michigan Renaissance Festival, adapting Malice Aforethought for a statewide tour, directing and appearing in the statewide tour of Mass Appeal, cooperating with the C.H. Wright African American Museum in the production of “Jordan Anderson Writes a Letter” which was seen by thousands of Detroit area teenagers, presenting “A Sleep of Prisoners,” at First Lutheran Church, adjudicating high school play contests, conducting acting workshops at area high schools and at the Michigan Educational theatre Association annual festival of plays.”

 

Recognized for his acting, production, and theatre writing Professor Beer received the Gesu Playwriting Award; Hopwood Playwriting Award; Rector Scholarship at DePauw University; Graduate Assistantship at both the University of Michigan and Wayne State University; Best Actor Awards from DePauw University, University of Michigan, Between the Lines Dearborn Press and Guide, Detroit Free Press, Detroit News, Detroit Monthly Magazine, Meadowbrook Theatre, Pittsburgh Press, and Oakland Press; Best Director awards from Dearborn Press and Guide, Detroit Free Press, Detroit News, Detroit Monthly Magazine, Jacksonville Sentinel; Lee Hills Career Achievement Award from Detroit Free Press; and City of Warren Mayor’s Award.

 

From his vitae, Professor Beer’s involvement in professional and honorary societies include Actors Equity Association, Screen Actors Guild, American Federation of Television & Radio Actors, phi Beta Kappa, Sigma Delta Chi, American Educational Theatre Association, American Theatre Higher Education, American College Theatre Festival, U.S. Institute of Theatre Technicians, and Detroit Council of Broadcast Unions.

Citation:

Professor Beer’s nomination for Professor Emeritus was approved and conferred by Dr. Antoine M. Garibaldi, President of University of Detroit Mercy on August 17, 2020.

University of Detroit Mercy

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