Associate Professor of Theatre
At Knox Since: 1996
In addition to design and technical work in the Department of Theatre at
Knox, Craig Choma designs at least one show a year in Chicago to increase
his awareness of current trends and cutting-edge technology. Choma teaches introductory theatre technology, lighting design, scene design, and scene painting for the theatre. He received his M.F.A. in scenic and lighting design from Carnegie Mellon University and his bachelor's degree in theatre and philosophy from Knox.
I went to Knox College as a student, from 1989-1993, and loved every minute of it. It was one of the most unique educational environments, and I feel I thrived as a result of the nature of the educational program that I was fortunate to be a part of. While I was finishing my graduate thesis at Carnegie Mellon University, long-time theatre faculty member Robert Whitlatch contacted me to see if I would be interested in coming back to Knox to teach in a one-year visiting instructor position. I had never thought about teaching, but jumped at the opportunity to return to my alma mater in that position. I was finishing grad school with a mountain of debt, and I was essentially handed a job. I had to reapply the following year when a full national search was undertaken, and fortunately I was chosen to continue on out of the many candidates who submitted materials.
What is your most memorable moment at Knox?
This is a tough one because I was also a student here. I have many memorable moments from my student years, as well as many from the 14 years that I have been back here teaching. I would say that so far being granted tenure has to be the most memorable moment by far because it is a milestone achievement. I am the first person to be tenured in this position since tenure was removed from this position back in the early 1970s for financial reasons. To validate this position by reinstating tenure was long overdue. To be the first person in nearly four decades to be tenured in this position is historic.
Describe your current research/creative work. What is most interesting about this work?
This summer I am lending my design and construction skills to a court case in which I have been asked to be a "forensic designer," recreating two separate but related crime scenes in full scale and with full detail. These constructions will then be set up in a courtroom in LaCrosse, Wisconsin, where the case is being tried. I have been hired by the defense to recreate these areas in order to show to the jury where the clues were discovered and other elements of the case that are crucial to the defense. I will be working with a nationally known forensics expert as the case progresses. Being involved with a criminal case, and using my skills as a part of a man's defense, is a lot of pressure. If I can help tell the story through the use of advanced visual aids, like the life-sized dioramas I will be creating, then I am able to use my art and my craft for the betterment of humanity.
In October, while I am designing the sets and lights for Mary Stuart, I will also be attending the National Dance in Education Organization (NDEO) Conference, which will be held in Minneapolis, Minnesota. I will be presenting on a panel discussion about cross-disciplinary collaborations between dance professors and theatre professors, and how we are able to mix our curriculum to simultaneously train young student designers and choreographers. I will be specifically addressing the collaborative nature of pairing my lighting design students with student choreographers, and how that process teaches both sides how to navigate the creative process collaboratively.
The most interesting thing about all of this work is that it allows me to explore my creativity through a variety of venues and in different ways based on the needs of the experience. It is all exciting because nothing is ever the same stagnant, routine experience. Everything is always new, fresh and different.
If you weren't a professor, you would be a . . . ?
Probably still a freelance theatre designer, working in Chicago. There is a part of me that would also like to explore production design on movies or television, as well as theme park design -- like the Imagineers of Disney fame.
If I could do anything, literally anything, I would be a rock god, able to play electric guitar like the best guitarists who have ever been on stage. Of course, I can't play guitar and I don't know how to even read music, but this is an extreme fantasy of mine.
What is your favorite thing about Galesburg?
I like how authentic and genuine most of the people are. You really feel as though people have the time of day for you, and not that you are just considered part of the hustle and bustle that most people experience in larger communities. I also appreciate the small town vibe, where people feel relaxed to just BE. I was born and raised in Chicago. I love Chicago, but there is definitely a different sort of energy at play in a city of that size. I feel as though I have more room to just BE here, which, I feel, allows my creativity to flourish, because I feel unburdened by the pressures of big city life.
What were the last three books you read?
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
The Girl Who Played with Fire
The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest
What did you do to celebrate receiving tenure?
I called my parents. I posted it on Facebook. I took my family out to dinner and relaxed with a few martinis. In the immediate days following notification, I felt as though I was walking on a cloud. It is a great feeling. It was also a huge relief.
I love Knox. Everything about it. I don't know what I would have done had I been denied tenure and asked to leave. Between being a student here, and now teaching here for a chunk of time, I have spent 19 years of my young life at this fine institution. I am 39. Just about half of my life has been spent at Knox, and in Galesburg. I don't know that I would feel comfortable living anywhere else, or doing anything else.