Theater professor Doug Paterson retires after 34 years at UNO

Photo courtesy of University of Nebraska at Omaha
Doug Paterson is retiring after a long career teaching classes and directing theater productions at UNO.

Danielle Meadows

All the world’s a stage—and Dr. Doug Paterson, who is retiring in May, proves it.

After 43 years of teaching higher education (34 at UNO), Paterson is wrapping up his final classes at the university, along with his final production, “Marat/Sade” by Peter Weiss. Paterson’s passion for social justice sparked his interest for choosing the play as his directorial swan song, as it deals with issues like mass incarceration.

“It’s dynamic, exciting, like nothing they’ve seen before,” said Paterson.

Paterson became interested in theater in high school, which he attended in Watertown, South Dakota. One of his first roles was as George Gibbs in the well-known play “Our Town,” which UNO preformed as their first play of the 2017-2018 season. Paterson initially enjoyed theater for the limelight, so much so that he wondered if he was in it for the right reasons.

“Liking the attention—that’s the wrong reason to go into it. If you go into it for that reason, you’re going to get slaughtered,” said Paterson. “I was debating on staying in theater… I had a long talk with myself. I decided to stick it out and I’m glad I did.”

His undergraduate and graduate careers were both marked by resistance to the Vietnam War. He went from Yankton College to graduate work at Cornell University, graduating with a Ph.D. in theater four years later. His collegiate experience changed him—opening his eyes to political, racial and social justice issues. After the U.S. invaded Vietnam in 1965, Paterson did all he could to stop the war, including wrecking his health to get out of the draft.

“I was not going to go. It was either Canada or prison,” he said. “What happened during that time was with me forever.”

Returning home, Paterson started the Dakota Theatre Caravan, a theatre collective creating plays about and for the people of rural areas. The company, including UNO professor Scott Glasser, traveled across the state in a car. Performing in parks, basements or anywhere that would host them, they eventually brought the concept to Omaha. Paterson also helped found the Circle Theatre, inspired by diner theatre productions, in 1984.

Paterson’s life changed in 1991 after being introduced to Augusto Boal’s practice of Theatre of the Oppressed. The practice is designed to promote social and political change, inviting audience members to be actively involved in the production. Actors participate in where a character is being oppressed—and those in the audience are encouraged to enter the scene to explore ways to combat the oppression. Paterson has traveled to countries all over the world, including Australia, Brazil and Iraq, to do workshops on Theatre of the Oppressed. He continues to promote Boal’s teachings.

“It carved a whole new thinking of what theater could be,” said Paterson.

Since starting at UNO, Paterson has directed numerous plays, inspiring the minds of students for decades. Each year he’s taught at UNO, he has been impressed by the talent students have brought. He not only appreciates the theater department – but the entire university – for giving students opportunities that are hard to find elsewhere. Paterson feels the university is hungry for students to succeed.

“It’s sort of the environment that if you want to go do something, go do it,” said Paterson.

In retirement, Paterson hopes to take more time to relax. However, he plans to continue his involvement in theater, especially in ways that mesh with social justice. Paterson’s final play, “Marat/Sade,” runs April 18-21. All performances begin at 7:30 p.m. in the Weber Fine Arts building. Tickets are free for students with a MavCard and $16 for nonstudents.