When Halle Pederson graduated from Ball State in 2021 with a major in theatre education and a minor in technical theatre production, she immediately accepted a teaching position at Trimble Tech High School in Fort Worth, Texas.
Though she works far from her home state of Indiana, she said she finds her job rewarding, calling on the wisdom of her old theatre education professor Troy Dobosiewicz to help her through the tougher parts of her job.
“Moving to a new place, teaching kids with backgrounds I’m not familiar with – it really got to me one time,” Pederson said, “so I called [Dobosiewicz] and told him … ‘I don’t know if I can handle this.’ He told me, ‘There’s nothing you can’t handle.’”
On Feb. 4, Troy Dobosiewicz passed away unexpectedly at 51 in his home in Muncie, according to his obituary in the South Bend Tribune. Though the professor is no longer alive, his memory and his impact on the Department of Theatre and Dance and its students continue to serve Theatre Education students at Ball State.
When Pederson heard that her professor had passed away, it “hit me hard, in a way I didn’t expect.” She called in and intended to take the day off to mourn but went back in the evening to continue directing the play that her students were putting on for the spring.
“I thought [he] would tell me that those kids would have needed me there,” she said.
In Dobosiewicz’s youth, he was raised in the Catholic faith, Jim McNab, Dobosiewicz’s partner of 22 years, said. McNab said the late professor took the saying “love your neighbor as you love yourself” deeply to heart.
“Whether it be his students, his family, me, his friends– he was always very much focused outward on them,” McNab said.
He said Dobosiewicz once considered becoming a priest but felt a greater “vocation” to teaching, eventually getting his doctorate in theatre from Arizona State University in 2014 with emphasis on theatre education, theatre history and directing, according to his curriculum vitae.
“He felt like he could impact more people that way by teaching people how to be theatre teachers,” McNab said.
Dobosiewicz began as an associate professor at Ball State in 2014; he became the theatre education option coordinator two years later. He was responsible for connecting students to “field sites” like Burris Lab School, Northside Middle School and Muncie Civic Theatre, so they could gain experience with teaching and directing young casts, said Andy Waldron, assistant professor and current option coordinator.
He says he considers the role of option coordinator to be that of a “mini department chair” in that he also monitors the theatre education students’ progress through their degrees and handles their curriculum, making sure they complete all of their practicums and guiding them through the process when necessary.
Waldron first joined the theatre education department in 2020, but he and Dobosiewicz first met at Arizona State University when Waldron was working toward his master’s degree. Dobosiewicz told him about an open position in the department and encouraged him to apply, Waldron said.
“It was both a friendship and a working relationship here,” he said. “Yeah, there were times where we would argue … about what to do in a given situation, but we never lost sight of what we were doing: trying to help students.”
The theatre education program is relatively small – there are two instructors for about 50 theatre education majors at any one time, Waldron said. During Dobosiewicz’s time as option coordinator, he often connected with his students personally, offering one-on-one mentorship and keeping his classes up to date on changing teaching regulations to fully prepare them for the field they were entering, Bill Jenkins, chairman of the Department of Theatre and Dance, said.
“He was always present and active in his classrooms; he believed in all of his students,” Jenkins said. “He helped them grow into the best teacher that they could possibly be.”
Though Dobosiewicz was the acting program director for theatre education, he often invited Waldron to his administrative meetings and showed him how to manage the program. The intention was for the two to be able to hand off and share those responsibilities, Waldron said.
“It’s weird not having him here to keep looping me in on meetings and being able to ask questions to [him],” he said. “But … he did a good job setting me up so that I could succeed.”
The Department of Theatre and Dance will search for another theatre education instructor through this spring semester with the intent of bringing on a new faculty member in the coming fall semester, Waldron said.
“We’re sad to lose someone as kind and as caring as [Dobosiewicz],” Jenkins said, “more tragically to lose him so young.”
In November 2019, Pederson was one of four student directors of Frozen Jr. at Muncie Civic Theatre. She said it was difficult trying to work with three other people whose ideas were clashing with one another, but Dobosiewicz taught them to compromise and work with each other instead of trying to direct one another.
“He was the voice of reason in the room, cooling us off when our discussions were getting too heated,” Pederson said.
The professor would often sit in on their rehearsals, she said, eager to provide positive affirmations of what she and her co-directors did well and offer “words of wisdom” to help them improve.
“All of the little things he said, all of the pieces of advice he gave me – it all became very important once I became the one doing it,” she said.
Pederson said that Dobosiewicz was an “inspiration” to her not just as a director and professor but also as a person.
“He’s probably the greatest reason why I stuck with [theatre education] in college and as a profession,” she said.
McNab is currently working with the Ball State Foundation to fund an endowment in his partner’s name, an initiative he started in response to Dobosiewicz’s unexpected death, he said. The endowment will provide scholarship funds annually to qualifying students who are pursuing a career in theatre education.
Although this initiative is in its beginning stages, McNab said he wants the scholarship to be available for the next academic year, so Dobosiewicz’s current students may have a chance to benefit from the endowment, which will be funded by the late professor's money as well as public donations.
“It’s a way to, in perpetuity, remember what he did … for theatre education and in the theatre department here,” McNab said. “I thought it would be a nice way of preserving his legacy.”
Contact Miguel Naranjo via email at email@example.com or on Twitter @naranjo678.