Perry native and 1978 Perry High School graduate Mark Shanda, longtime professor of theater at Ohio State University, has begun a three-year term as president of the Syracuse, New York-based U.S. Institute for Theater Technology.
“I am honored to be serving USITT at this time,” Shanda said Monday. “It is a great organization of nearly 5,000 members, all of whom work to make the performing arts come alive for both actor and audiences alike.”
After leaving PHS, Shanda earned a bachelor’s degree in speech/theater and political science from Iowa State University and a master of fine arts degree in theater technology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He started teaching at Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio, in 1986. Even with this long track record, Shanda still credits the PHS days with his earliest love of theater.
“I consistently credit the launch of my career to the outstanding theater program that was present in Perry High School under the direction of Margaret Crouch and her successor, Terry Gerrett, with technical direction by Denny Wales and his successor Tom Taylor,” Shanda said. “One of the best things that ever happened to me in setting the course for my love of theater technology was being ‘demoted’ from the role of head waiter in Crouch’s production of ‘The Matchmaker’ due to the fact that I was a freshman and was shorter than the assistant waiter, played by PHS senior Perry Martin. So despite having fewer lines, I was made the assistant waiter, and as a consolation prize Crouch told me I could ‘do props.’ What seemed to be a crushing defeat at the time set a course of backstage work that I continue today.”
Shanda’s backstage work has been prodigious. He has served as the resident technical director in the OSU Theater Department while also teaching courses in drafting, technical direction, sound, theater technology, properties and metals. A full professor and later chair of the theater department at Ohio State, Shanda was made a dean in the OSU College of Arts and Sciences in 2011. His new position as USITT president began in August.
Shanda said the “timing for starting this USITT presidency has been good as it comes at the end of a five-year term where I was serving the university as the dean for arts and humanities. I stepped down from that role on June 1 and have returned to full-time faculty in the Department of Theater. So for the first time in 10 years — five years as department chair and five as dean — I currently don’t have any major administrative responsibilities at Ohio State.”
Fewer administrative duties also mean more time to write. A regular contributor to a technical journal, “Theater Design and Technology,” Shanda is also co-author of “Drafting for the Theater,” the standard theater-technology textbook used in virtually all theater programs in the U.S. He said a second book is in the works with mentor and longtime co-author Dennis Dorn.
When not writing and teaching production management and theater-tech courses at OSU, Shanda oversees the university’s ongoing $200 million expansion of its Arts District Project, which includes the music school, Wexner Center for the Arts and a growing program in moving image production.
Eric Wessels of Dallas Center, a schoolmate of Shanda and fellow 1978 PHS grad, said he remembers being Shanda’s lab partner in Ken Finer’s earth science class at Perry High, and they remained friends through their years at Iowa State University, when they lived in the same dormitory complex. Wessels also recalled an event he believes was crucial to Shanda’s final commitment to theater studies.
“He went to a test screening of the movie ‘Halloween,'” Wessels said, “back around 1978 or 1979, before it was out. He came back and told me it was the worst movie he’d seen in a long time, that it would never make it to the theaters, and then he told me the whole story line. I always have to chuckle about that because a month later it came out, and it’s still with us, one of the highest-grossing series that’s ever been out there. So it’s a good thing he went into theater and not into cinema.”
Mark Shanda is the son of longtime Perry residents Mel and Marge Shanda. Mel Shanda was for many years president of the Perry State Bank and also sat on the Iowa State Fair board of directors. Mel and Marge Shanda are now deceased.
Mark married Ginny Mace of Perry, the daughter of Jim and Elsie Mace of rural Perry, fixtures in Perry social circles. Mark and Ginny live in Columbus, Ohio, with their two daughters, Ann and Kay.