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Mark Medoff returns to teaching at NMSU with a new award

"When you comin' back, Mark Medoff?"

NMSU playwright, director and actor Mark Medoff observes NMSU student Jose Sanchez. (NMSU photo by Victor Espinoza)

This may have been a question asked by budding theater students who desired to take classes from the New Mexico State University playwright, actor and director after he stepped away from 27 years of teaching.

Medoff, who has won critical acclaim and awards for such works as "When You Comin' Back, Red Ryder?," "Children of a Lesser God," and "The Hands of Its Enemy" has returned to the classroom, teaching NMSU students Screenwriting and Acting for Film.

And he has returned with another award - the Kennedy Center Medallion for Excellence in Education and Artistic Achievement, given periodically to professionals in theater who also teach and mentor students.

Turning from theater to film as he returns to NMSU, Medoff will teach Short Film Production, Film Directing and Producing in coming semesters. In the summer, he and Philip Christiansen, director of the Dona Ana Lyric Opera, will co-teach a musical theater workshop, in which the two talents will work for one week on a pair of new, in-progress musicals.

Medoff said he returned to teaching so he could give back to NMSU and the Las Cruces community, which have been "enormously important" in his growth as an artist.

"My loyalty as a teacher is to NMSU and my heart is in Las Cruces," Medoff said. "I became really sick of writing movies for hire. I missed the theater, so at 60, I quit writing for hire and turned my attention back to writing for the theater, to teaching and to directing film."

Medoff's decision to return to teaching at the university level was encouraged by the commitment of NMSU President Michael V. Martin and Provost William Flores to the "One University" concept. Through this idea, the university's top two administrators are "breaking new ground boldly" by changing the face of academia, which, Medoff said, "is often mired helplessly in the status quo, in tiny fiefdoms that are protected at unintentional cost to the educational whole."

In connection with the One University concept and his return to campus, Medoff also is the artistic director of NMSU's new Creative Media Institute for Film and Digital Arts. In this role, he hopes to "team build" and be "a good collaborator." In the CMI mold, two-year students earning associate degrees will be "schooled in technology through the notion that a narrative of some sort drives everything we teach."

Fewer, but highly-gifted, four-year students will participate in the program expanding their skills. These students will work their last year on a narrative thesis project in a medium or media of their choice. The seniors will be mentored by visiting professionals and a faculty team drawn from across the campus depending on the students' needs.

"Mark Medoff is a fantastic part of NMSU's history and brings an extraordinary set of gifts and experiences to CMI as a new venture here," said CMI executive director James Hindman. "He is a gifted teacher and a narrative artist with few peers. Just as important, he has a direct and deep understanding of the students here and their needs and visions for the future. I'm so pleased to have him as a colleague. He elevates the stature of this venture and brings a world-class sensibility to it."

Others who have worked with Medoff echoed Hindman's sentiments.

Daniel LaRocque, theater arts professor at Auburn University and Region IV chair of the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival, said, "For one semester a year over the past three years, Medoff worked at Florida State University as a Reynolds Eminent Scholar in FSU's School of Theatre. One of his plays, "Prymate," went from FSU to Broadway two years ago."

LaRocque said having watched Medoff, he knows he deserved the Kennedy Medallion. "He gave a terrific keynote address (at the theater festival) and one of the things that made it so compelling was its primary focus on the next generation of theater artists. In sharing the keynote with his students, we were able to see both the powerfully positive influence he has on his students and the generosity of his spirit in his role as an artist passionately concerned with sharing what he knows with others. It was an honor and a privilege to have Mark at our festival and his students earned great distinction there as well."

About 18,000 students from more than 600 colleges and universities nationwide participated in the festival. Another festival executive and theater arts professor, Steven Hunt of Converse College, said Medoff received the highest award the region could bestow for embodying the essence of the festival - encouragement, recognition and celebration of students' written work.

"It was awarded not only to recognize Mark's contributions to the world of theater, film and television, but also and perhaps more importantly, to his tireless and dedicated contributions to his students. As testament to Mark's effectiveness, the region featured four plays by three of his Florida State students."

One of the plays, Joshua Mikel's "Bethlehem Motor Community," won the short play festival.

Medoff once said, "My work is simply a reflection of my own spirit, my fears, sorrows, and fires."

When it comes to his students' work, his years of expertise and experience should help them move into screen related-careers and to higher levels of accomplishment, either independently or through graduate school training with the hopes, he said, that "maybe, just maybe, we'll ignite a star or two."