After year on sabbatical, director of MSUM theater program glad to return

Craig Ellingson, right, and Kathy Hanson, left, rehearse Jekyll and Hyde The Musical at Minnesota State University Moorhead. Carrie Snyder / The Forum

By: Sam Benshoof, INFORUM

MOORHEAD – After spending a year away from campus and teaching, Craig Ellingson is ready to get back into the swing of things.

Ellingson, the chair and director of the Theater and Theater Dance department at Minnesota State University Moorhead, recently returned from a yearlong sabbatical in northern California, where he studied with a prestigious international theater school.

We caught up with Ellingson last week, who this summer worked with the “My Fair Lady” and “Lucky Stiff” productions by the Straw Hat Players, to find out how he’s feeling about being back in Moorhead and what he has planned for the upcoming school year.

How did you spend your year on sabbatical?

I was in California being a student again. I studied at the Dell’Arte International School of Physical Theatre in Blue Lake, Calif., and got a certificate with their professional training program. I was there from September until June.

I came across Dell’Arte at a theater festival, and I’ve had several students take courses and workshops from professors there, and so I decided that it’d be a great way to spend my sabbatical.

Physical theater is trying to engage your body in such a way that brings about real emotion. It’s not just trying to be a heady, psychological actor. You’re trying to engage your body to bring about something that’s real and believable.

What are you currently working on?

Right now I’m working on “Jekyll and Hyde,” which will open in the first part of September with Music Theatre Fargo-Moorhead. I have the pleasure of playing the title role of Jekyll and Hyde.

It’s a great musical, and it will be performed at The Stage at Island Park, and will run from Sept. 6-16.

It’s very timely, given my physical training that I just did. The physical side of playing those roles is very unique, and it has some very demanding singing aspects. It’s really a wonderful challenge, to say the least.

How are you feeling now at the end of your sabbatical, with school about to start again?

It’s kind of a torn emotional experience. I had such a great experience at Dell’Arte – I was a part of a class of 27 students from around the globe. I’ll stay in contact with them, and we have aspirations about putting on a physical theater piece that we could tour with.

But, at the same time, I’m very much looking forward to sharing my experience with my students at MSUM in various courses. It’s not just something that should be in an acting class or a directing class. All of those things can be influenced by physical theater.

What in the coming year are you most excited about?

I’m very excited, for myself, the department and the community at large, that we’re going to be presenting the regional premiere of “Avenue Q” in February, and I get to work on that production.

It will be an interesting production, in that we’ll be using puppets. The play was a very successful Broadway musical, so I think it should be great fun.