When Charles Dumas joined the School of Theatre faculty in 1995, he was a professional actor, director, and writer who came to Penn State as a guest teacher. However, his focus has changed, says Dumas, who will retire at the end of the 2013-14 academic year. “I have become a teacher who sometimes acts and directs.”
Dumas has witnessed many changes in the School of Theatre. “First it became a school. When I first came it was still a department. The B.F.A. program in Musical Theatre had not yet graduated its first class. The Dance program was still over in Kinesiology. And the School of Theatre had a new head—Dan Carter and I started the same year.” That first year, Dumas designed and taught three new courses: African American Theatre, Diverse Cultures Workshop, and Acting for the Camera. Over the years he has also taught undergraduate acting, playwriting, and directing.
In his second year, Dumas directed A Raisin in the Sun, the first play written by an African American to be presented on the mainstage at Penn State. Since that time he has also directed August Wilson’s A Piano Lesson, Fences, A Colored Museum, and this year’s No Place to Be Somebody, by Charles Gordone, the first African American to win a Pulitzer Prize for playwriting. During his time at Penn State he has also directed at other venues—productions include Diary of Anne Frank, Seven Guitars, The Meeting, I Oughta Be in Pictures, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, Driving Miss Daisy, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Romeo and Juliet, Othello, A Darker Face of Earth, The Blacks, Dancing at Lughnasa, Once On This Island, and a dozen other studio productions and workshops.
One of Dumas’ priorities has been presenting opportunities for diversity development. He was the first African American faculty member in the School of Theatre, and the first to get tenure and be promoted to full professor. He served as chair of the Diversity Committee and was the program developer for Penn State’s Martin Luther King Day ceremony for years. In addition, Charles and his wife, Dr. J. Ann Dumas, established and fund the Frances Foster Award, which recognizes a worthy undergraduate for his or her contribution to theatre and diversity in the school.
As an actor, Dumas appeared in Penn State Centre Stage’s Fences, Death of a Salesman, Whose Life Is It Anyway?, A Christmas Carol, The Illusion, and Radio Golf. He has been a regular on several television episodes out of New York, including Law and Order, Ed, and 100 Centre Street. He also was a principal in the films Diehard with a Vengeance, Deep Impact, Copland, and Red Water.
Dumas was a Pennsylvania Council on the Arts award recipient for his film Surfacing and served on the council’s theatre review panel for six years. His 9/11 A Day in the Life of a People won the David Award in 2010 and His Brother’s Keeper was a finalist for the Best African American Play in 2000. He was a Fulbright Fellow at Stellenbosch University in South Africa in 2002 and was a senior guest professor at the University of the Free State, also in South Africa, from 2010 to 2012.
Other departments at Penn State have made use of Dumas’ skills. He was an active member of the newly formed Department of African and African American Studies for three years. With his wife, he co-teaches a course on African film for the College of Communications. He is the narrator for The Next Chapter, the weekly Penn State football show.
Charles and his wife have been active in the State College community. Charles was the first chair of State College Borough’s Human Relations Commission. In 2012 he ran for Congress in the 5th District. Though he did not win, he garnered more than 100,000 votes, or 37 percent. He says it will be hard to leave the School of Theatre, but it is time for a change. “We have spent a lifetime in this community. We have been present at the marriages of three of our children and the birth of a grandchild. But, I have also buried both of my parents and our oldest daughter, Allison. It is time to move on.”