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Drama and Dance Chair Cless to retire at end of year

Published: Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Updated: Wednesday, November 28, 2012 08:11


Courtesy the Department of Drama and Dance

Downing Cless, chair of the Drama and Dance Department, has announced his retirement after 33 years at Tufts.


Downing Cless, the associate professor and chair of the Department of Drama and Dance who has been a mentor to students and the fire behind the program’s diversification of courses and faculty, will retire at the end of the academic year.

Through countless theatrical productions and hours of administrative paperwork, Cless has served two terms as the department’s chair — a six-year stint starting in 1995 and again since 2009. He has spent his weekdays in the Aidekman Arts Center for the last 33 years, often not leaving the building until 10 p.m. 

Though he will remain involved with Tufts’ alumni relations, he plans to dedicate the next portion of his life to directing professional theater in Boston, volunteering for environmental causes and traveling.

“I’ll definitely miss the students,” Cless said. “The engagement in production here, with students and in my classes, is unparalleled.”

From the film studies minor that began in 1999 to the P.T. Barnum Award for Excellence in Entertainment, Cless has been at the forefront of several interdisciplinary initiatives in the Drama and Dance Department. The P.T. Barnum Award, for example, sprouted from annual alumni receptions in New York City and Los Angeles that Cless started in 1997.

“That’s a big part of what I feel is my legacy,” he said. 

Since his first term as chair, enrollment has doubled within the Drama and Dance Department. Integrating theater and film studies from various perspectives, such as African-American or gay and lesbian theater and film courses, was at the crux of Cless’ role in the department’s expansion.

“Many of his accomplishments are due to the fact that he is a person of great integrity,” Natalya Baldyga, assistant professor in the Department of Drama and Dance, told the Daily in an email. “He takes his responsibilities very seriously and is committed to making the department the best that it can be.” 

Before he leaves, Cless said he hopes to lay the foundation for additional theater space on the Medford/Somerville campus, as well as work with the university to construct a campus television studio in support of the film studies minor.

Though it is not likely that he will complete these projects before the end of the year, professor of Drama and Dance Barbara Wallace Grossman said she hopes to find a new chair who will build on the strengths Cless has engrained in the department. 

Grossman began the search for Cless’ replacement last spring, advertising the position to senior faculty at other universities. From the 40 applicants, she said, a selection committee chose four finalists, each of whom will present a 30-minute talk on a subject of their choice to faculty, staff and students. 

“We want someone who is a renowned scholar, proven leader, a teacher, someone who can direct or participate in a practical way in the production program,” Grossman said. “The complexity of our department means we need someone who can direct a play, but also write a book; be a scholar artist.”

Although the candidates’ names are currently confidential, with three of these lectures next month and one in January, Grossman said she hopes to announce the new chair as soon as possible.

Cless said he is glad to pass on the position to someone new with fresh ideas. 

“We’re optimistic and excited at the prospect to bring these four people to campus,” Grossman said. “We hope that we’ll find a wonderful match where we select a candidate who is passionate about coming to Tufts.” 

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