UVA Arts, University of Virginia

Vol 11 Winter 19 Library
Michael Bailey

Saying Farewell to Kate Burke and Tom Bloom

How do you quantify the work of professors whose contributions to their department has been immeasurable? That is the challenge facing the UVA Drama Department as they say farewell to Kate Burke and Tom Bloom, two extraordinary artists and educators who have influenced the lives and careers of countless students and colleagues during their highly distinguished UVA careers. 

Kate Burke

(Photo: Kate Burke)

Before coming to UVA, Kate Burke headed voice programs at the University of Iowa, the University of Michigan, and the University of Washington. She received her M.F.A. in Acting from Ohio University, and she has worked on vocal pedagogy with some of the world's leading theatre companies, including the Royal Shakespeare Company. She has said that her research is devoted to "methods of encountering and voicing great sacred and secular texts, and the pedagogy of theatre voice and speech." Burke has long promoted the importance of oral literacy and helped speakers increase their vocal confidence in the theatre, and in their professional and personal lives. Her teachings have helped generations of UVA students, many of whom have gone on to successful theatre careers. Burke's own theatre career includes credits in television, radio, and at leading professional theatres across the country, including the American Conservatory Theatre, American Repertory Theatre, Heritage Repertory Theatre, and many more. She has worked as a vocal coach at numerous university theatres as well as at the Tyrone Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis and the Old Globe in San Diego. “Kate has spent a career modeling both a passion for language and the truth within the language we speak,” said her UVA Drama colleague Marianne Kubik in a toast at Burke’s recent retirement celebration. “She helped actors realize that the human voice can give great impact to the words we speak and offers deep insight into how we listen. Kate invited each of her students to find their self – that resides deep down in the belly – and give it voice. With a blend of grace and fire, Kate offered students courage to open their mouths and discover how to truthfully speak that which they were meant to say all along. In this way, she fostered authenticity.” The celebration included many glowing testimonials from students as well. Les Rorick, 2016 UVA M.F.A. Acting graduate, said, “I have never fallen in love with the feeling of my voice. You are a veritable matchmaker. You have given me one of the greatest gifts I have ever received: my voice.” Lauren Elens, a UVA M.F.A. Acting graduate of 2016, said, “With her talents and guidance, I found both power in my voice and power in what I have to say and offer to the world. [Kate] hears your potential, and then she yanks and pulls it out of you, all while holding your hand with such tender care.” Heather Mayes, who earned her UVA Acting M.F.A. in 2005, added, “Kate Burke. You changed my voice. And so, you changed my life.” 

Tom Bloom

Tom Bloom giving a tour of the Ruth Caplin Theatre prior to the opening of its inaugural production of You Can’t Take It With You
(Photo: Michael Bailey)

Artist. Colleague. Leader. Friend. Talk to anyone in the UVA Drama Department about Tom Bloom, and these words will come up again and again. Tom led the Scenic Design Program from his arrival in 1995 until his recent retirement and served as Chair of the Drama Department from 2005-2015. He leaves a lasting legacy at the University and the Department, having established the path-breaking Dance Program and played an instrumental role in the design and construction of the Ruth Caplin Theatre, which has been honored by the United States Institute of Theatre Technology and the Society for College and University Planning. Tom’s work on stage was just as award-winning, with more than 150 productions across the country, including 70-plus for the Drama Department and Heritage Theatre Festival, and honors including two Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival Awards. Perhaps his greatest legacy, though, is found in the many students he mentored who have now gone on to create on stages around the country. "Tom has been not only an extraordinary colleague, but a dear friend of mine for 45 years," former Drama Department Chair and longtime Heritage Theatre Festival Artistic Director Bob Chapel said. "When I stepped down as chair of Drama in 2005, I told the Dean that I felt there was only one person who could succeed me, and that was Tom Bloom. He then spent ten years as a totally fair and excellent leader of our department." Chapel also had a unique front-row seat to Tom's vast creative talents through their many collaborations. He also mentioned his "handoff" of the Ruth Caplin Theatre project to Bloom. “As I was one of the ‘starters’ in getting the Ruth Caplin Theatre built, Tom was our ‘closer’ as he meticulously shepherded its construction until its opening.” Another retired former colleague, LaVahn Hoh, said, “His career in the department has certainly been an outstanding one. His designs were truly extraordinary. It was a treat to sit in the audience and say, ‘I wish I could have built this one for him.’” Hoh’s most treasured memories also surround the Ruth Caplin Theatre project. “We were sort of the go-betweens for the department and the architects and contractors. Tom was so great at coming up with creative ideas on how to think outside the box to make it a better experience for actors, directors, technicians, and audience members.” “Tom’s designs were always quite brilliant,” Chapel said, “and, as a teacher of design, his expertise is exemplified by the great number of former undergraduate and graduate students who are finding success in designing for theatre, film, and television. When he leaves, the Drama Department will miss him in many ways.”

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