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CCU professor awarded Fulbright Fellowship to develop an English theater program in China

April 23, 2019
CCU theater professor Steve Earnest will teach theater in China in 2019-2020 under a Fulbright grant.

Steve Earnest believes in building a global appreciation for theater production. In his role as a professor in Coastal Carolina University’s Department of Theater, he’s traveled to Germany, Iceland, England and China over the past several years for teaching engagements, workshops and academic research.

As a result of the knowledge and understanding he’s gained in that travel, Earnest has been awarded a prestigious Fulbright U.S. Scholar Award for the 2019-20 academic year. Earnest will teach and develop an English theater curriculum at Nanjing Normal University in China, where he has taught in the past through CCU’s cooperative partnership with the China Center for International Economic Exchanges (CCIEE).

“I’m thrilled to have earned this honor. I’ve been interested in a Fulbright for a very long time, and to finally land one is exciting,” said Earnest.

Darla Domke-Damonte, associate provost for global initiatives and Fulbright campus adviser at CCU, assisted Earnest during his application process for the grant, and said his hard work has paid off.

“This award is a testament to his work at Nanjing Normal University through the CCIEE, and to his dedication and determination,” Domke-Damonte said.

Earnest has traveled to China with CCIEE three times, and the Fulbright project proposal developed out of an experience he had with the theater group in 2017. Earnest was asked to informally help with a theater production outside of his teaching duties. When he visited the play rehearsal, he realized the actors were speaking English but had very little sense of the nature of acting.

“They knew the lines – they could read them and recite them, but they had very little idea of how to translate those words into action on a stage,” said Earnest.

Earnest provided assistance for that particular production and noticed that the students and faculty clearly wanted to learn basics of acting as well as all the dimensions of roles that make up a production.

“They didn’t have a stage manager and weren’t aware of the need for someone to keep the whole thing together, to make all the pieces work,” said Earnest.

He noted that basic differences in theatrical production between Eastern and Western cultures explain the gap in understanding.

“Eastern theater is not necessarily realistic; it’s not based in realism,” said Earnest. “It’s inherently much more presentational, where you’re talking to the audience. In Western theater, even if there are no stage directions, we as theater people have to make that action happen. They didn’t understand the concept of stage action.”

At that point, Earnest realized a longer-term commitment would allow him to make a more significant contribution to the university’s curriculum by creating an English theater minor.

“I want to create standards for the achievement of what they want to do. To help them do what they want to do. Because I know they want to do it and they have great hearts for it, so I’m hoping to provide that opportunity.”

Earnest envisions a curriculum of 18 academic credit hours involving classes in acting, stage production and design. He also hopes to direct a few productions during his tenure.

“I think theater production is the best way to learn about everything at once: you learn about literature, you learn how to act, you learn projection of your voice, and of course you learn all the range of pieces that have to come together to get the production on stage,” Earnest said.

Earnest’s award ensures that a little bit of the CCU theater program will remain in China even after the award itself is complete.

“It’s very rewarding to have individuals like Steve Earnest on this campus who care so much about their craft that they not only dedicate themselves to educating our students, but students in other countries,” said David A. DeCenzo, CCU president. “Steve has embraced the teacher-scholar model on a whole new level, and I’m looking forward to seeing the results of his work in China.”

The Fulbright Program is an international educational exchange program sponsored by the U.S. government designed to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries. The program operates in more than 155 countries and has given more than 318,000 students, scholars, teachers, artists, scientists and other professionals the opportunity to study, teach and conduct research, exchange ideas and contribute to finding solutions to shared international concerns.

Over the last eight years, 10 Coastal Carolina professors have received Fulbright awards to work in Russia, Austria, Turkey, the Czech Republic, Madagascar, Norway, the United Kingdom and Poland.

Two CCU graduates have also earned Fulbright awards: Peter Seifarth in 2017 and Michael Dorman for 2019-20.