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Christopher Dippel Knows About The Learned Ladies

An interview with the director of Hofstra University's production of the Molière classic.

Christopher Dippel hard at work directing Hofstra University's The Learned Ladies.
(© Gianfranco Lentini)
Following up on my earlier post about what I've learned working on Molière's The Learned Ladies, I turned my questions this time onto Hofstra University professor and director of The Learned Ladies, Christopher Dippel. Enjoy!

How were you introduced to theater as a kid?

A man named Mr. Jacobus, who was my 7th grade English teacher, cast me - he was directing a production of It's a Bird, It's a Plane, It's Superman - and I was a kid who struggled socially, but when I got involved in the theater, I found a way to be able to communicate with people… I learned a lot about who I really was and what kinds of people I really wanted to get to know and wanted to know me better.

What is your education?

Undergrad at SUNY Albany. MFA in Acting at Indiana University. MS in Education at Hofstra University.

What professional work have you pursued in NYC?

I'm a founding member of the New York Neo-Futurists, who are a crazy bunch of people who do avant-garde, experimental theater at the Kraine Theater. We do a show called Too Much Light Makes The Baby Go Blind, and we run that every Friday and Saturday night at 10:30. It's an ever-changing attempt to perform 30 original plays in 60 minutes… It's the only open-run, off-off-Broadway show in New York. We've been running since 2004.

How did you make your way to Hofstra University?

Well, I knew Jean Dobie Giebel [HU Professor of Drama]. She and I went to graduate school together. They needed someone to teach Play Analysis, so they called me up and asked me to come in and sub for a semester, and I've been here for 10 years.

What do you enjoy more: working in New York City or working at Hofstra?

My answer is Hofstra. I really enjoy working here. I like theater in an educational setting. More risks get taken here than in the professional world. I love working with young actors because I love to watch them grow. Working with professional actors is in some ways easier, but it's never more rewarding than it is working with student actors.

What do you think Molière can teach us about our society today through The Learned Ladies?

I think looking at 17th century France, we see a lot of things reflected about ourselves - maybe things we don't want to see reflected about ourselves. I think that families haven't changed terribly much in the last four centuries; in The Learned Ladies, you've got a mother, a father, and two daughters, and they're at odds because they're trying to figure things out; this is a household that's turned upside-down. I also think that we see foolishness reflected back at us… The idea of people who don't understand who they are personally and what they are meant to do, what their true strengths are.

In your opinion, what makes someone successful in theater?

Passion. That's the simplest and easiest and truest answer I think, because passion leads to everything else. Passion is what drives you to begin with. Passion is what will lead you to the specificity that is required in everything that you do. Passion leads to answers; it makes you ask questions. If you don't have the passion, you're just killing time.

What does theater mean to you?

There's nothing to me that is a more satisfying, simple experience than to be moved, to be changed. That when you arrive in the theater space and by the time you leave you are completely changed, and I really love that idea. It's an experience that's designed to change you in some way. The reason that we work for six weeks on a show is in order to be able to create something that will change people. I think that's ultimately what it is - to communicate something of the human spirit and have people understand themselves a little bit more and change them that way.

As a teacher, what is the one lesson you hope your students will take away from you?

The idea that [theater is] a life-long process. Growing as a person helps you grow as an actor, and I really try to teach that. That everything you do helps you learn how to be an actor, and everything you learn about acting helps you be a person. Those two things go hand-in-hand, and I think that it's really useful whether you end up as an actor, whether it's something you choose to pursue, whether it's something you change your mind on, or whether you never wanted to be an actor at all.