Catherine Eliason, a professor in the drama department at UW, was close to tears Friday when her Dramatic Arts 337 students started clapping for her at the end of their last class. Eyes closed, arms outstretched, Eliason was deep into her twice-yearly fantasy that her 17-student class was in fact a crowd of adoring Broadway fans.
Eliason, who took a degree in theatre arts from a New England liberal arts college in 1986 and immediately moved to New York City, never performed on Broadway, but she did originate the role of Melverina Elverina Peppercorn in the off-off-off-off-off-Broadway anarchist feminist surrealist musical comedy ___________. However, Eliason’s career has fallen far from those dizzying heights, and she’s been teaching soon-to-be has-beens at UW-Madison since 1999, trying not to think about the fact that most of her students weren’t born before she left the stage.
However, between singing along to Anything Goes in the shower and waiting for the day she can finally stop suffering and write that musical, Eliason allows herself this one small indulgence twice a year.
“I know it’s a little childish,” Eliason said, “but it allows me to pretend that I made something of myself, that I didn’t wash out as a no-talent PhD who never changed anyone’s life, you know?”
“Honestly, most of the theatre professors do it,” said performing arts major Raya de la Cruz. “Some of the music profs, too… the dancers… I had a screenplay prof once who used us to pretend he was getting an Academy Award.”
But, as with most things, what seems run-of-the-mill for the artists is deeply disturbing to the engineers.
“I’ll be honest: it scared me,” said chemical engineer Nic Bates. “I thought she was having a stroke at first. Then I realized she was just bathing in the applause, and I was like… Its the last lecture, we applaud for every professor, ok? It’s, like, basically required. So just, like… chill.”