Before anything else, Peter Zazzali is someone who loves theatre. The theatre department professor has 30 years of experience as an actor, director and scholar.
As the recently appointed director of the Kansas Repertory Theatre, his packed schedule just got busier.
The Kansas Repertory Theatre has existed in its current form for three years, co-founded by Zazzali. The Theatre brings in professional actors, directors and other experienced theatre makers every summer to work with University students on two productions. Last summer it was 20th-century plays “Harvey” and “Angel Street.”
Katherine Pryor, the managing director of University Theatre, said Zazzali is bringing something new to the table. It’s been around for decades, but Pryor said it hasn’t existed in a way that’s provided such a valuable experience to students and the Lawrence community.
“This is different,” Pyror said. “We’re bringing professionals in.”
Zazzali likes to bookend his day with the two components of his job as a scholar/artist. After breakfast and an early morning run, he arrives on campus and works on the scholarly part of his job — planning theatre seasons, working on his book or other academic endeavors. He spends the rest of his daylight hours teaching and grading.
He ends his day creatively. In the late afternoon or early evening, he does theatre work, often directing the latest University Theatre play.
Zazzali has been an assistant professor at the University since 2013, teaching acting, directing and theatre history. He spent the bulk of the preceding decades as an equity actor and student, primarily in New York and Los Angeles, where he was a part of numerous acting companies and more than 45 productions of works by Shakespeare.
Zazzali completed an undergraduate degree in acting at the California Institute of the Arts in 1990 and went on to earn two master’s degrees, followed by a Ph.D. in theatre from the City University of New York in 2012.
Being an actor in New York was painful, Zazzali said. As a member of the New York-based The Acting Company, Zazzali acted in productions of Shakespeare's “The Tempest,” “As You Like It” and numerous other works of contemporary and classical theatre.
New York is arguably one of the most competitive places to try to be successful as a theatre talent. Working at the University allows him to balance his love for theatre scholarship with his love for theatre production.
“I think the balance of the scholar/artists, you don’t find that in most places, and that’s what makes this place exceptional and such a delight to be in," Zazzali said.
University junior Andrew Hafling starred in last semester’s University Theatre production of “Pooter McGraw is Not Dead Party,” directed by Zazzali. Hafling said Zazzali is the kind of director who knows what he wants out of a production and prioritizes quality above all else — except, maybe, for the opportunity to give his students an educational experience.
“Rather than just saying ‘this is the way we’re going to do it,’ he says ‘let’s work together to get what you see out of this as well,’ which I think is really important in a theatre environment — or any arts environment, really,” Hafling said.
Hafling has had Zazzali as a professor for two theatre classes. During lectures, Zazzali rarely has to refer to notes or a textbook to recall the name of a director or a bit of theatre history. Hafling said he’s like a walking encyclopedia.
Zazzali said that he wants to cultivate a new generation of theatre makers in his students. He wants to see work that is creative and progressive, both politically and structurally.
“[Theatre] is part of my life — a big part of my life, in fact — and I want to help it grow, and part of helping it grow and merge and develop is in no small part being a teacher, being here at KU,” Zazzali said.
— Edited by Brenna Boat