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Acting dean to bring synergy to center stage at CoPA

July 12, 2011

If you call Dale A. Merrill the dancing dean, he won’t take offense. It’s a rare title.

Acting Dean Dale Merrill

Merrill, formerly the associate dean at Chapman University’s College of Performing Arts, recently took leadership of the college as acting dean when William Hall, Ph.D., CoPA’s founding dean, was named artistic director and dean of the planned Center for the Arts. The new post puts Merrill in a rare group – most head deans in the performing arts hail from the theatre and music traditions.

“There aren’t very many dancing deans,” he says with a smile.

But the collaborative spirit of the dance world is exactly what Merrill looks forward to fostering throughout CoPA . Merrill says that kind of teamwork is at the heart of American Celebration, the university’s annual Broadway-style extravaganza, which he directs.

“Collaboration is a huge part of the success of a production like American Celebration,” he says. “I love surrounding myself with other artists, giving them ideas and seeing what they would do, then shaping it and creating a totally new form, a new creation, one which neither of us could have come up with without the other.”

The university’s performing arts departments were only just united as one college in 2007, so there’s still work to be done in learning the collaborative ropes. But Merrill plans to nudge that process along by creating more opportunities for joint productions.

“Collaborations are so natural, but the way we’re structured, in terms of how we plan our performances and productions, it’s hard right now. That’s my big goal is to get us to be one really big cohesive unit,” Merrill says.

His goals reflect both his management style – “I’m a consensus builder” – and his belief that artistic personalities thrive when they work together and there’s a mix-master finessing what can be a dynamic group.

“It’s taking the spiciness of one personality and then the calmness of another and mixing them together and you get this great synthesis,” he says.

Moreover, it’s an essential skill for students headed into entertainment careers.

“To be successful in the art world, you have to be collaborative,” he says.

Merrill’s interim appointment is for two years, and after one year a national search for a permanent dean will be launched. Merrill says he plans to be among the applicants.

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