By Madi Cantalamessa
From drama student to drama department faculty, Ted Walch ’63 has more theater experience than most on the Hill. As a director, he worked with Paul Newman ’49, developed several theater programs and taught for over 50 years at universities and secondary schools across the country.
Last week, Walch paid a visit to Kenyon film classes as a guest lecturer on French New Wave cinema and hosted a talk with students, faculty and community members in Finn House in which he discussed his personal experiences with Kenyon theater.
Walch first came to Kenyon in 1959, following his two older brothers, who also attended the College. As a first year, he was cast in the lead role of a mainstage show and fell under the mentorship of Jim Michael, who headed the drama department at the time.
Walch worked in the theater in several capacities throughout his time at Kenyon, eventually directing a mainstage show his senior year. Following his graduation in 1963, Walch went on to continue his work in theater but eventually realized that teaching was his true passion.
In the summer of 1966, Walch returned to Kenyon and created a one-week summer theater program called the Gambier Summer Playhouse. But despite the fact that local residents loved to see the shows and the productions received good reviews, the program was discontinued in 1968 due to a lack of financial support, according to the drama department’s website.
After summer theater, Walch began to teach full time. He took a break when Kenyon asked him back to produce the Bolton Theater’s first production in the fall of 1978, alongside Newman. C.C. Pyle and the Bunion Derby opened the theater and starred professional actors and Kenyon students alike, including Allison Janney ’82, who was a student at the time. The show opened in the winter and was a hit.
In 1980, Walch returned to Kenyon again and created Kenyon Festival Theater. This was a repertory theater that ran for five seasons until it ended in 1984. Those involved lovingly referred to the Festival Theater as “deficit theater,” according to Walch, but the quality of the productions were always high. “The most important thing that came from Festival Theater was the relationships that were made with other people,” Walch said.
While many of the faculty and community members knew a lot of the people Walch mentioned, students were also entertained by his personal account of the history of theater at Kenyon.
“It was nice to learn so much about Kenyon’s theater department and [Walch] spoke in a way that was very intriguing,” Katie Stevenson ’21, who attended the talk, said.
Walch currently teaches at Harvard Westlake School in Los Angeles. He said he does not plan to start Festival Theater back up at Kenyon — although, he added, current students who are passionate about the arts might want to consider doing so.