Kathy Privatt holds out a fake human skull on Main Hall Green.
Portrait on Main Hall Green: Kathy Privatt (Photo by Danny Damiani)

About the series: On Main Hall Green With … is an opportunity to connect with faculty on things in and out of the classroom. We’re featuring a different Lawrence faculty member each time — same questions, different answers.


Kathy Privatt and the stage have gone hand in hand for more than two decades of teaching at Lawrence University.

The James G. Ethel M. Barber Professor of Theatre and Drama and associate professor of theater arts has taught in Lawrence’s theater department since 1999. A faculty leader across campus, she currently serves as chair of the Theatre Arts Department and is the university’s faculty athletic representative.

Through those 22 years of teaching, she has annually directed theater students through main stage productions, one-act plays, and a bevy of other theater experiences. When teaching went remote during the COVID-19 pandemic, she deftly transitioned her students into producing radio dramas via Zoom.

She has held the Barber Professorship since 2008. It was originally established in 1985 by Ethel Barber, a 1934 graduate of Milwaukee-Downer College, and recognizes her lifelong interest in and support of the performing arts and higher education.

Privatt earned her bachelor’s degree magna cum laude in theatre and speech at Central Missouri State University and her Ph.D. in theatre from the University of Nebraska.

We caught up with her to talk about her interests in and out of the classroom.

In the classroom 

Inside info: What’s one thing you want every student coming into your classes to know about you?

Collaboration drives my work, and I really do expect the whole to be greater than the sum of its parts. When I’m directing a production, the collaborative process may seem obvious, but it’s how I think about teaching, too. Coming to class means we’re all agreeing to show up together, and while I certainly have a plan, I also expect to learn from each student, and for students to learn from each other so that we’re all learning from each other and together.

Getting energized: What work have you done or will you be doing at Lawrence that gets you the most excited? 

Right now, a set of three one-acts that I’ll be directing Winter Term because it’s a joyful collaboration. It all started with student Lexi Praxl’s independent study on contemporary French theatre. As she was collaborating with the reference librarians, she discovered what seemed to be a project to commission new short plays, inspired by the plays of Molière. We reached out to professor Eilene Hoft-March for translation help, and that led to a plan to have a student translator (Claire Chamberlin) create English versions. Now I’m starting production meetings with the designers for two new plays inspired by Molière, and one play by Molière, who was, himself, inspired by the Italian Commedia dell’arte. We’ll be performing these in the year of Molière’s 400th birthday. Oh, and did I mention that I also get to work with other colleagues for pronunciation help in a variety of languages? And this production will be Lexi’s Senior Experience? Collaborating is like going to a really good buffet, and every time you put something on your plate it creates interesting flavors with the food that is already there. It’s delicious, and just a bit intoxicating.

Going places: Is there an example of somewhere your career has taken you (either a physical space or something more intellectual, emotional or spiritual) that took you by surprise?

Thanks to former Provost Dave Burrows, I am a certified Alexander Movement Technique (AT) teacher. I love sharing that work, whether through the classes I teach, in workshops, or in individual lessons. What I didn’t expect was to find myself sitting in church, making connections with the metaphors of the Christian faith and ways that AT guides us to experience ourselves in the world – and it feels so organic to me. Those connections have launched me on a project I call Embodying Your Faith, and I’m continuing to build on the collection of workshop sessions I’ve created. Most recently, I finished a set called Belonging that lives on the Spiritual and Religious Life YouTube page.

Out of the classroom 

This or that: If you weren’t teaching for a living, what would you be doing?  

I think I’d be a physical therapist. They’re really effective body-detectives, AND relieve pain.

Right at home: Whether for work, relaxation or reflection, what’s your favorite spot on campus?

My office. I’m a bit of a “nester,” so I’ve filled it with mementos, even toys, that either remind me of someone or some event I’m connected to.

One book, one recording, one film: Name one of each that speaks to your soul? Or you would recommend to a friend? Or both?

Book: Love Wins by Rob Bell. Not a fluffy little examination, and even controversial for some, but to me, this book makes a really compelling case that God love us all, no matter what – period.

Recording: Poncho Sanchez’ Latin Spirit. My husband and I first heard Sanchez at a Jazz Series concert, and I hope I never forget how much sheer joy I felt watching those musicians as the music poured out of them. We bought the CD, and are lucky it still plays because I’ve lost count of the times we’ve put it on to dance a little salsa in the kitchen.

Film: That’s easy, The Princess Bride. I adore fairytales, and this one contains “love, true love” that isn’t afraid to sacrifice for one’s love . . . and the grandpa-reading-a-book frame makes me a little teary-eyed every time. So good.