portrait of jerrold scott standing in front of a brick and concrete wall

5 questions with… Department of Theater Chair Jerrold Scott

As a junior in college, Jerrold Scott was immersed in British politics as a part of the English-Speaking Union’s exchange program. During that year, Scott was a Member of Parliament’s research assistant, writing some of his speeches that were given on the floor of the House of Commons. He even met then-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

Scott, who had majors in political science and history, called the experience “amazing.” But it also led him to an undeniable truth: It was not what he wanted to do for the rest of his life.

It left him feeling lost heading into his senior year at the University of Pittsburgh. Scott had long been involved in the theater, performing in productions in both high school and college, but didn’t realize it could be a real career path. With the guidance of a faculty member, Scott auditioned for graduate school theater programs, attending the MFA program at the University of South Carolina/The Shakespeare Theatre. The move ultimately helped bring him here.

Now, Scott is the Katharine Bakeless Nason Professor of Theater and chair and artistic director of the Case Western Reserve University Department of Theater. The department earned recent accolades when The Hollywood Reporter ranked the Case Western Reserve University/Cleveland Play House Master of Fine Arts program 12th among the top 25 graduate acting programs in the world.

Scott said the ranking is the hard work of many—especially the late Ron Wilson, who previously chaired the department and directed the joint program, and Donald Carrier, the program’s interim director—paying off.

As department chair, part of Scott’s role is to oversee the program and its director. He also teaches speech and classical acting classes, and has directed six shows put on by the program, most recently Noël Coward’s Hay Fever.

Prior to entering academia, Scott worked with regional theaters in Washington, D.C., Columbus and other stops along the east coast.

But, ultimately, teaching allowed him to embrace another side of theater.

“I enjoyed the balance of being able to be creative professionally and also to share that with students,” he said.

Before coming to Case Western Reserve in 2000, Scott held positions at The Catholic University of America, the Acting Conservatory of The Studio Theatre, Ohio State University and George Mason University.

Scott, who also directs some Eldred Theater productions, considers watching his students mature to be his favorite part of being a faculty member. Throughout their time at the university, Scott said, he gets to watch students figure out what works best for them as artists and what doesn’t.

In a few instances, Scott has had the chance to perform alongside his students, opportunities he considers rewarding and unique, with his stint as Lord Goring in Oscar Wilde’s An Ideal Husband what Scott calls “probably one of the most magical experiences I ever had.

“Being in the show with your students you’re teaching to act is the ultimate test of practicing what you preach,” he said.

In the classroom, Scott’s teaching specialty is in classical theater, borne from a love of language. He believes his early experience in musicals made him better suited for such roles as an actor, giving him better insight into the music of a line.

He’s also appreciative of the way his high school English teacher taught Shakespeare, encouraging students to read his work aloud.

“You appreciate it differently than when you read it out loud because he wasn’t writing it to be read, he was writing it to be heard,” Scott said.

Next, Scott plans to take on a different type of project. When he was younger, he was in a production playing a part based on Adam Badeau, a 19th-century American writer and politician, but found it difficult to find any literary information about the man behind his character. So, Scott plans to write his own biography of Badeau, and maybe even turn it into a one-person show someday.

Read on to learn more about Scott in this week’s five questions.

1. What’s next on your reading list?

I’m currently reading Prince of Players [by Eleanor Ruggles], which is a biography on Edwin Booth. She wrote it in the 1950s, but it’s a really great biography of Edwin Booth and particularly the challenges he had after his brother [John Wilkes Booth] killed [Abraham] Lincoln. He had been such a successful actor and a star and he was not a Southern sympathizer at all, but everyone tarred him with that because his brother went and did this horrible thing. It’s kind of interesting. Adam Badeau actually was his best man in his wedding, so it’s an interesting relation to what I’m working on.

2. Do you consider yourself an early bird or a night owl?

I think most theater people are night owls. I’m positively a vampire.

3. What is one thing people would be surprised to learn about you?

I suppose it’s that I worked for the British government for a while. I think most people think theater people are just theater people and I have this historical and political background, which actually really influences my work in classical theater as well.

4. What do you think is the most beautiful spot in Cleveland?

It’s a really pretty city. I grew up south of Pittsburgh and never came to Cleveland because there was no reason. When I moved here 20 years ago almost, I really fell in love with the city. A visiting friend described Cleveland as having a size that gives it “all of the advantages of a big city and few of the drawbacks” I love that. I think my favorite spot is the terrace at Pier W [a restaurant in Lakewood] because you look back at the skyline of the city from the west side and they have the cove of Edgewater Beach and it’s just the lake and the city skyline. It’s very pretty on a beautiful day. It’s probably my favorite view of the city.

5. What’s your favorite thing about Case Western Reserve?

It feels trite, but it’s the students. I taught at Ohio State, I taught at Catholic University of America, I taught at George Mason University before I came here—great students at all—but there’s never been any place where the students are as complex, in a good way, with multiple interests, great curiosity. One of the things I love about our STEM and arts balance here is when we do a play about science—which we do because I think theater is the original interdisciplinary study because you’re constantly exploring other topics—our students know things about it. They can not only perform the characters, but they actually have context for what’s being discussed in the play. I love that because that’s not been universal at every university I’ve been at. They may have really good actors, but that’s what they are. Here, they’re really good actors and really interesting and smart people, which is exciting to teach.