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Curtain call: Theatre professor retires after 45 years

Jim Ream, associate professor of theatre at the University of Indianapolis, never imagined he’d work at one place for 45 years, or that he would have become a theatre professor in the first place.

(Doctor of Humane Letters: Jim Ream) Commencement, May 6, 2017. (Photo by D. Todd Moore)
(Doctor of Humane Letters: Jim Ream) Commencement, May 6, 2017. (Photo by D. Todd Moore)

Before joining the University, Ream earned his master’s degree in religion and was considering the ministry or working for a church headquarters in their media department. He even thought about creating a traveling religious drama troupe. Teaching at a college seemed like an interesting idea to him, but he figured that it was “just a pipe dream.”

That changed in 1972 when he was asked by Dick Williams–the University’s sole theatre faculty member at the time– to stage-manage a show at what was then Indiana Central College (University of Indianapolis). When Williams went on sabbatical, Ream was asked to step in, launching the next four and a half decades of his career.

As a nod to the many positive ways Ream has influenced the people and campus, the University honored his service and commitment at this year’s Commencement ceremony by awarding him an honorary degree, allowing the entire campus community to celebrate his contributions.

“I am still stunned at receiving the honor of the degree,” he said of the surprise robing ceremony. “I have so many great colleagues, and I feel very self-conscious and honored to be recognized in this way. This is one of the few times in my life that I couldn’t have dreamed would ever happen. I am very thankful.”

It was a proud moment in the spotlight for a faculty member whose focus has been largely behind the scenes. A theatre generalist who specializes in scenic design, Ream has been active in other areas, including acting, directing and sound. He has taught scenic design classes as well as radio and television, public speaking, audio technology and introduction to theatre.

“From the beginning, I have designed scenery for our productions and attempted to teach our students how to do the same while balancing safety, functionality and artistry,” he said. Ream has quietly served the University in many ways during his tenure, and his influence is felt by many who have had the good fortune to work with him.

Jeffrey Barnes, director of University Events, has worked with Ream since 1994, first as a student and then as a colleague. “I use lessons and skills that I learned from him every day both in my professional and personal life. I have never met a more genuine person,” he said.

Christie Beckmann, also a former theatre student and colleague for more than 20 years, added: “Jim taught me to always see the good in people, and that you never lose anything by giving,” she said. “He was one of the people who inspired me in my current vocation of becoming a pastor.”

In addition to working with University of Indianapolis theatre, Ream has worked with numerous Indianapolis theatres to design sets including the City Center Children’s Theatre, Beckmann Theatre, Civic Theatre (Indianapolis), Edyvean Repertory Theatre and the Phoenix Theatre. His set designs earned three Corbin Patrick Award nominations and the Best Set Design award for the Phoenix Theatre’s production of Fences. Ream has also designed sets around the country, including One Voice at Ten Ten Theatre in New York, Noises Off in Brainerd, Minn., and Young Black Beauty at Stage One in Louisville.

“While I have enjoyed my many roles on stage, the applause during a curtain call and the accolades from friends and family afterward, I truly appreciate the behind-the-scenes work as a designer,” said Ream. “In fact, on the two rare occasions when my scenic designs received applause as the curtain and lights came up, I was torn between feelings a pride and embarrassment. A good design should support the production and not call attention to itself. This represents the person that I strive to be.”

Ream also lives his commitment to education for service in his personal life serving as a leader for the past 25 years at the summer camp hosted by his church Southport Christian Church. He volunteers with the United Way and even creates the design of the commencement stage at the University each year.

As Ream looks forward to retirement, he knows he will miss UIndy students and his colleagues.

“We had an incredible group of freshmen this year, which made it a really enjoyable year. I view my work at UIndy as a service and always have. I attempt to serve our students with good teaching,” Ream said.

Fast facts

Ream’s first play he performed in: King Lear in 1968 at Culver Stockton College. Four decades later, Ream performed as King Lear at UIndy’s production in 2015.

First show he designed: You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown

Hardest show to design: Hello, Dolly! “The expectation of spectacle is high.”

One play everyone should see: Les Liasions Dangereuses. “It’s one of those plays that hooked me. I love plays that get you laughing and then slap you in the face.”

Favorite UIndy memory: Doing Godspell with the students and taking it on a tour across the country in the mid 1970s. “We went all over the state, and we also went to the west coast for a spring term trip and performed in many churches.”

Favorite theatre: The Stratford theatres in Canada and England and also the theatre at Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis.

Retirement plans: Visit New Zealand. “I’m also looking forward to spending time being a grandparent.”

Random UIndy story: In the early days of WICR (the campus radio station), the station’s antenna was on the roof of Ransburg Auditorium. A winter storm hit and coated the antenna with ice, not allowing the 10-watt signal to be broadcast. Ream climbed up to the roof of Ransburg, then climbed up the 50-foot tower, carrying a hammer and wearing a hard hat and goggles in order to knock the ice off.