This year, UNH theater and dance professor David Kaye received the Lindberg Award, which recognizes an outstanding scholar and teacher.
Kaye, a Theater Department chair and London Experience Program director, said he considers this to be one of the highest awards that the College of Liberal Arts (COLA) gives. He has been teaching at UNH for 20 years now, he said, and specializes in acting, directing and teaching theater as a social justice.
“About three years ago I started Power Play, which is in theory an applied theater company and a professional level theater company,” Kaye said, adding that the company is UNH based under the Theater Department.
“Its main focus is helping businesses do their anti-sexual harassment programs, such as helping train search committees to do more fair and equitable searches,” Kaye said. “We’ve worked with the National Science Foundation. We created one [program] helping scientists collaborate with each other and another one to help scientists communicate knowledge about climate change to the general public.”
Kaye also directs UNH student productions. He said that this year is the first time he has directed the musical, which was called “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson.”
“I’m particularly interested in theater with politics,” Kaye said in regard to the musical. “It was sort of the perfect musical because it was extremely timely and very reflective of the current political climate, particularly some of the candidates.”
Other productions Kaye has worked on include a play called “Palestinian,” and another called “Hamlet in Seven Years.”
“I do a lot of pieces that range from classic pieces like Shakespeare to more modern works, like last year we did a piece called ‘Dead Man’s Cell Phone,’” Kaye said.
Outside of UNH, Kaye is still active in other local theater productions. He said that he tours with a solo show and created a solo play called “How I Brought Peace to the Middle East: A Tragi-Comedy.”
“I packed up my family; I had a Fulbright grant and we moved to Israel for six months,” Kaye said of his inspiration for the solo play.
“It was an interesting time to be there because it was at the height of the Arab Spring [a time of revolution in the country].”
Kaye said that this solo play was performed at the United Solo Festival in New York City last year, and that now he has “performances coming in from all over the country.”
He also spoke of his work in the New Hampshire Seacoast community, which has included directing multiple summer musicals at Prescott Park in downtown Portsmouth.
“I perform when I can but it’s tough, acting in a production takes more of a time commitment than directing,” he said.
Kaye said that he felt grateful to win the Lindberg Award and that he was nominated by psychology professor and former COLA Dean, Kenneth Fuld. He said this was the second time he has been nominated, the first time being by history professor Jeffrey Bolster last year.
The Lindberg Award winner is required to present the Lindberg lecture. “A great deal of anxiety, sweat and tears [goes into the lecture],” Kaye said. “This is one of the two most nerve-wracking experiences I’ve had in the past few years.”
“It was a struggle to figure out even what I wanted to talk about and come up with something that I thought would be worthy to put in front of my esteemed colleagues,” he said. “I ended up thinking this was a really horrible idea that they selected me to begin with, which actually became the topic of my lecture, which was called ‘This Was A Bad Idea: Life vs. Theater and the Creative Abyss.’”
Kaye explained that in almost every project he has worked on, he hits a point where he thinks, “This was a horrible idea.”
“The way I talked about it in the lecture is that all of our ideas are like we’re Albert Einstein and this is because it lives in our head. Sooner or later life has to be added to that idea and when that happens, at first, life just shoots your idea full of holes,” he said. “It seems like it always has to go through that horrible, bad idea period. To me, though, that’s the excitement of creating anything.”
However, Kaye said that he doesn’t guarantee it will ever leave that period. “It doesn’t always turn out well,” he said.
“This famous theater director Harold Clureman, despite being one of the most successful, illustrious directors of the 20th century, didn’t have that many hits and he used to get very irritated because people only wanted to talk about his successes. He said, ‘Let’s talk about the things that were awful because that’s where I learned everything that led to me to doing the things that were hits,’” Kaye said.
“Things that grow, grow out of muck. If you have no muck you have nothing that nourishes the things that are really going to be great,” he said.
Kaye said that he doesn’t believe the end result is the most important in creative work. “I feel the test of ideas is not so much whether in the end it was good or bad but what did you learn from it,” he said.
Overall, he said he really enjoys his work and research.
“I’m really lucky to work in the field that I work in because every project is completely unique. It’s the perfect place for a person who loves to do different things very continuously,” he said.
Upcoming projects that Kaye said he is already working on include a “submersion theater piece,” a short film he wants to direct, a play called “Rossum’s Universal Robots” or “RUR” and a Czech play that he wants to turn into a “Steam Punk musical.”
“I’ve got lots of things that I want to do. I don’t think I’m ever going to lack for ideas and the motivation or desire to see where those ideas take me,” Kaye said.