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The Observer

Director Patrick Dizney fulfills his theatre calling

Adam Robertson, Staff Reporter

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The theater is Patrick Dizney’s natural habitat. His bright silver hair may at times be hidden by a baseball cap, but his humor and affection for those around him cannot be concealed.

It was a chance decision that led him to the theater. When he was 25 and searching for direction in his life, Dizney went back to school. He attended Eastern Oregon University with the intention of becoming a teacher and signed up for an acting class to fulfill a financial aid requirement.

He hadn’t acted since junior high, but the elective he took on a whim led him to fall in love with acting. He switched majors from teaching to theater immediately.  

Thirty years later he’s fully immersed in both teaching and acting. As the director of the current production of “Good Kids” at CWU, he’s guiding student actors through difficult material and helping them grow their skills.

“He’s definitely a flower child, dude’s all about feelings and emotions,” said Deven Austin, a senior theater major who plays Landon in “Good Kids.” He cares about all of his actors.”

The cast members of Good Kids rave about his willingness to listen, his encouragement to see things from different points of view and his overall supportiveness.

“He’s kind of like the embarrassing dad,” said Reilly Smith, a sophomore theater major who plays Tanner in Good Kids.

Even though embarrassment is by definition awkward, a teacher who can make his students feel unconditionally loved is a teacher who is connecting with those students.

“Patrick is one of the most enthusiastic, loving, kind human beings I’ve ever met,” said senior theater performance major Sadie Nickerson. “He’s truly an amazing teacher.”

Comments like that show that the emotional current between Dizney and his students doesn’t just flow one way.

“His students love him,” said Michael Smith, head of performance at CWU.

After graduating from Eastern Oregon, Dizney got a Master of Fine Arts degree in acting from the University of Washington and then moved to New York City to pursue his career.

Dizney spent more than six years in New York where he found gigs as an actor. The life of an unrecognized actor is not easy though, and even during his most successful years, less than half of his income was from acting.

Then he lived through 9/11. He walked through the dust cloud sent up by the collapse of the twin towers.

“I started to really look at my life,” Dizney said. “I said, ‘I miss my family, I miss the green trees and, believe it or not, I miss the rain a little bit.’”

He put acting aside and worked as a contractor in Portland, Oregon. After years of trying to break through in the acting world, just having a steady paycheck was enjoyable.

Before long, however, theater friends from his college days started popping up, asking him to work with them. Instead of having to chase acting, opportunities were coming to him.

“The first time I was asked I was kind of surprised. I was like, ‘Wait—you want me to do what?’” Dizney said, “was was odd because I had focused my entire life on acting for so long—and then it was kind of a pleasant surprise.”

From then on Dizney decided to only get involved in theater and acting opportunities if he thought he’d have fun doing it. He followed that ideal to a job at Western Washington University, where he taught until coming to CWU in 2013.

“We lured him away from WWU and it’s one of the best hires I think we’ve ever made,” Smith said. “He seems to throw himself into the deep end, and the thing about it is he always seems to pop up and smile and wave his hand and say, ‘Yup! I’m okay!’”

In the summer of 2013, Dizney came into the puppet studio where Sarah Andrews was helping to get ready for Buskers in the ‘Burg. At the time, Andrews was heading into her senior year as a theater major.

“He’s one of those people who I’m convinced could charm the socks off of anybody because he’s genuinely interested in everyone,” Andrews said.

Andrews has spent enough time with Dizney to know. During her senior year, she volunteered to chauffeur him to the plays that he attends regularly around the region in his role with the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival (KCACTF). They got to know each other and formed a lasting friendship during the long road trips and she saw him interact with people from theater departments all around the region.

Dizney introduced himself as the new theater professor and after some conversation Andrews invited him to a reading of a play she was working on. At the reading, Dizney was part of a group of teachers and friends who mingled, had tacos, listened to the play and shared notes. One student, Sean McGehee, struck up conversation with Dizney and shared some things a student might not generally say to a new teacher.

“We got to talking,” McGehee said. “After like an hour he’s like, ‘You don’t know who I am yet, do you?’” Dizney wasn’t scolding, just amused.

Dizney is now his academic advisor and has helped him navigate the administrative hurdles that face students after a long time away.

Dizney wouldn’t travel as much as he does to see other colleges’ productions if he didn’t love theater, and he’s traveled a lot—enough to earn multiple Road Warrior awards for most travel from the KCACTF. The motivation for that travel stems from a belief in the importance of theater and a love for teaching.

“There are days, I’m gonna tell ya, that I say, ‘This is the hardest job on the planet,’” Dizney said. “But I gotta say that probably four days a week I say to my friend Mary who works in the office over here, ‘I love my job.’ How many people can say that?”

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Director Patrick Dizney fulfills his theatre calling