Veteran theater professional Ron Van Lieu has been appointed chair of the Department of Acting at the School of Drama. Van Lieu, who is replacing current department chairman Evan Yionoulis, will assume the post on July 4, 2004.
Van Lieu spent the past 28 years as a master teacher of acting at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. In 1993, the university awarded him its Distinguished Teaching Medal, NYU’s highest honor recognizing outstanding teaching inside and outside the classroom. Van Lieu is also a board member and master teacher of acting at New York City’s The Actors Center, and is head of acting for the New York Shakespeare Festival’s Shakespeare Lab.
Drama School Deputy Dean Victoria Nolan called Van Lieu’s appointment “just spectacular.”
“He is amazing — I can’t think of a more qualified teacher, someone with more experience,” Nolan said. “We are just pinching ourselves with delight that he’s coming here.”
Deputy Provost for the Arts Barbara Shailor expressed similar enthusiasm.
“It’s a real coup — he’s absolutely fantastic,” she said.
Nolan said that since the search for Yionoulis’ successor began more than a year ago; the School of Drama interviewed “a ton” of applicants from around the world. The search committee was informed of Van Lieu’s interest in the position relatively late in the process, Nolan said, but students and faculty realized almost immediately that he was the right person for the job.
“Ron Van Lieu walked through the door and it was very clear that he was the person,” Nolan said. “He has a kind of grace and confidence and humanity that’s just very exciting.”
She added that when Van Lieu conducted a master class as part of the selection process, students rewarded him at the end with a standing ovation.
“Their vote was very apparent,” she said.
Speaking from NYU, where he is currently directing a production of Tennessee Williams One-Acts, Van Lieu said he feels ready for a change of scenery — and that Yale is the right destination for him.
After more than 25 years of teaching at Tisch, Van Lieu said he felt his time shaping NYU’s Graduate Acting Program had come to a “natural end.”
“I feel a bit like the kid who inherited a beloved family business and, as a result, has never left home,” he said in an e-mail. “I would like to know myself in another context and with a different family.”
Van Lieu also said he recognized right away that the School of Drama would be a good fit.
“After meeting with Dean James Bundy in July, I felt certain that I had found my next home,” he said in an e-mail. “Yale and NYU are widely recognized as the two leaders in the field of graduate actor training, so it seems natural to me to shift the second phase of my artistic life to Yale.”
Originally from Wooster, Ohio, Van Lieu attended Bowling Green State University and received graduate training at Tisch. He has acted at regional theaters across the country, was a company member of the Milwaukee Repertory Theatre, and is a founding member of the Lion Theatre Company and Circo delle Arte. As a director, Van Lieu has worked at Syracuse Stage and Greer Garson Theatre. He has also directed more than 50 productions at Tisch and serves as director of Studio Tisch, an alumni association that provides artistic support for graduates of the school’s Graduate Acting Program.
As head of the Drama School’s Department of Acting, Van Lieu will occupy the chair named for former Drama School Dean Lloyd Richards. Richards was Van Lieu’s teacher, a fact which Lieu said made him especially honored to accept the appointment. He said Richards’ encouragement had a “profound influence” on Van Lieu’s decision to pursue theater as a career.
“When I was 17, I took a bus from my hometown to see plays on Broadway, and Lloyd’s production of ‘A Raisin in the Sun’ — set a standard for me of what great acting and directing were about,” he said. “To be told by such a gifted artist that, in his opinion, I belonged in the theatre was an important rite of passage for me.”