Donor Profile: Lisa Kornetsky '86 teaches what she learned
Tuesday, March 1, 2016
Tuesday, March 1, 2016
Graduating Year: ‘86G
Degree: MFA in directing
A favorite UMass Theater memory: Kornetsky has many memories of pulling end-of-semester all-nighters in the Department of Theater. She fondly remembers being in the directing and dramaturgy graduate student office with her compatriots. “It was probably horrible at the time, but (I loved) the connection with students as we did our best to end the semester and get things done with no sleep!”
Why do you donate to the Department of Theater? I feel like I found myself at UMass. I found what I wanted to do and I learned who I was in a bunch of different ways. I could be my best and I could be my worst, and it was all OK because it was a learning experience. It was a great program… and it’s my responsibility to support it when I can and how I can.
Finding her focus
Lisa Kornetsky was a theater kid from an early age, but it took her a while to figure out where this interest would take her career. Kornetsky's earliest theater memories include putting on shows for her parents. Her interest in performance remained throughout high school and at Hampshire College in the 1970s, and it took her to New York after graduating to be part of a new theater company a friend of a friend had started up. A year as a New York City actor convinced her that wasn't the life for her, though.
"I took the opportunity to assess my own talent and realized I was never going to be successful as an actor," she said.
She moved to Boston, where she worked for the housing department at Harvard University. There, students putting on performances were looking for a director, and Kornetsky decided to step into the vacancy. She realized she'd found what she was looking for.
"Directing was a better fit for my personality. It was what I wanted to do," she said.
She has made her career out of teaching directing and theater education at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside, and her time at UMass is constantly present in her thoughts. "I'm trying to be the kind of mentor Ed (Golden) and Dick (Trousdell) were for me," Kornetsky said. Reading each issue of Stages, she said, "brings back a lot of good memories."
UMass Theater's graduate program was "a perfect program." She wanted a place where she'd have close interaction and mentorship from the faculty, and she got it. She appreciated, in particular, the directing studio, where students brought in a variety of work, sometimes rough and unfinished, other times polished, for what she remembered as "really constructive feedback."
"I kind of lived for that class," Kornetsky said, noting that while she was inspired to do her best, "at UMass it felt like I could fail splendidly and I wasn't shamed for it."
Teaching the craft
She also got an introduction to the other passion she's pursued for years now — teaching. Kornetsky had always been drawn to educational settings — witness the Harvard experience that set her on her directing path. "I have a compulsion to be involved in education," she said.
She recalls the sink-or-swim feeling of teaching her first Theater 140 course, and how much she loved it. "So much of UMass was about the faculty," she said, noting that there are elements of their instruction that show up in her own teaching, even 3 decades later.
As Kornetsky approached graduation, she began looking for a place to work. "I went to UMass very much with the idea of wanting to work in an undergraduate institution," she explained, envisioning someplace like Hampshire. Still, she said, "I pretty much applied to every job I thought I was qualified for."
When she got the call to come interview in Wisconsin, she had never even been to the Midwest and told Ed Golden she wasn't sure if she wanted to go. She was hired as a sabbatical replacement, and then found her way into a tenure-track position from there. Although she initially hung on to the idea that she'd make her way back east, that hasn't been the goal for some time now.
"I made my life here. It's a troubled institution, but this is home now," she said. She has spent most of her career in the theater department, although she did spend 10 years as the director for the Office of Professional and Instructional Development, a faculty development resource for the University of Wisconsin system. "I loved that job but I missed my discipline," she said, and when the opportunity came up to return to theater, she took it. She has also served a stint as chair and is recently returned from a sabbatical.
Kornetsky spoke frankly of the University of Wisconsin-Parkside's struggles. It's a small state institution, she said, that had a high commuter population when she began, although now there are more students living on campus. A high percentage are students of color, the first in their family to attend college, and/or low-income. Many come from failing school systems, and while some are ready for college, some are still mastering basic academic skills. Meanwhile, the university has been hit hard by her governor's moves to defund education, so that students don't always get the additional resources they need to succeed.
Still, the members of her department are a resourceful bunch who manage to put on high-quality productions regardlss of the state of the budget. For example, she said, the university's theater department builds sets for a local dinner theater — which in turn helps fund their own technical director and scene builds. They've got a slate of donors who help fund productions and good connections for internships for their students. Many end up employed in theater and related fields.
"We have clever faculty who are able to deal with a small budget," she said, and they've built a program that's especially strong in tech and design students. "The quality of the work itself is high."
"I love it," she said.