James Bohnen ’70 shares his passion for theatre

James Bohnen ’70 of Chicago, Ill., had no ambition toward theater, but he got into it at the urging of others.

“I was running lines in my dorm room with my college roommate, Rick Dinkel ’70,” Bohnen says. “He had a show he was going to direct and he said to me, ‘You really should try this once.’ That’s the sort of accident in life that leads to all different journeys.”

Later, while teaching high school history in Colorado Springs, Colo., Bohnen again was talked into auditioning for a play. A friend had just died,
Ripon College theatre alumni share their passion with audiences and he thought the activity might make him feel better. The success and satisfaction he found doing that play led him to help found a community theater that is still running in that city 40 years later.

He became actively involved in several areas of the arts. He wrote film criticism for a newspaper in Colorado for a time; owned and operated a movie theater in northwestern Connecticut; was artistic adviser to a summer theater in Aspen, Colo., for several years; and founded the Remy Bumppo Theatre Co. in Chicago, for which he was artistic director for 15 years. Among his many directing positions, he has directed plays for the last 16 seasons at American Players Theatre in Spring Green, Wis. “What I love about directing is making a play something that people can understand and relate to immediately,” he says. “I feel like storytelling is what we do. It’s how we learn and relate to one another. The thing that draws me to theater is being able to shape writers’ stories for 1,000 people a night into a story in their head they can’t quite stop thinking about, and it makes a small difference in their lives.”

He says that the arts – theater,visual arts or reading a good book – can impact people’s lives profoundly. “I think artists can help you see into your own world better so they can change you or provoke you in quiet ways to think about the way you live and the way you are as human beings,” he says. “The truly great artists see the world changing before the rest of us do, and they lead us to the door and try to get us to walk through. With every play, you create a kind of close-knit, complicated family, all aspiring to the same goal of unlocking the puzzle and making it clear. There’s a wonderful communality in the work with people who share your passion for getting it right, and that’s very exhilarating. It’s life-giving. When a rehearsal is really engaged, there is no place quite like it.”


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