Professor Spotlight: Dawn Larsen – Students applaud professor’s passion for theatre


Photo by: Austin Kemmerlin

Larsen recently co-authored a book titled “American Traveling Tent Theatre: 1890-1940” which describes the impact of traveling tent shows in America during the twentieth century.

Lauren Cole, Staff Writer

With a resume a mile long and a passion equal in proportion, it’s no wonder Dawn Larsen has taken the theatre world by storm.

Larsen, associate professor of theatre history, has brought plays, productions, publications and activities to Francis Marion University (FMU) in an effort to increase interest and understanding of the world of theatre.

In addition to her many accomplishments at FMU, Larsen recently published a book that she co-authored entitled “American Traveling Tent Theatre: 1890-1940”.  The book is a 700-page historical account of the importance and impact that traveling tent shows had on the Midwest and Southern areas of the country in the twentieth century.

“Theatre was the only form of entertainment that rural America had to enjoy,” Larsen said.  “They were based primarily on physical humor (from the actors) to highlight the lives of the people in rural America at the time.”

Larsen say she has always had a love of theatre and has been acting since birth.  Born to two actors heavily involved in live theatre, Larsen was destined to hit the stage.

“Theatre is liberal, dangerous and edgy,” Larsen said.  “I could not imagine doing anything else.  I tried a couple of ‘real jobs’ once and got fired from both of them.  After working in corporate America, I went home and burned my suits in a bonfire.”

She says she begins each semester by telling her students to stray away from the safe material and go for the edgy and different.  She wants to challenge her students’ thoughts and emotions and force them to confront heavy issues that are prevalent in society.  She wants each of her students to feel comfortable expressing their opinions through theatre.  Larsen said that theatre seeks out the different and gives you a voice.

Larsen has dedicated her entire life to theatre.  Before coming to FMU to teach, she worked in a theatre company that allowed her two weeks cumulative time off in two years.  She decided to switch gears and begin teaching theatre to allow herself more time to start a family and raise her son.

Although she has devoted most of her time to her students and her family, Larsen has not lost her spark for live, traveling theatre.  She often finds herself itching to perform in front of an audience.  To satisfy her craving for performance, she helps to sponsor V-Week each year and produced the Vagina Monologues.  Both events draw huge crowds of FMU students and act as fundraisers for women of sexual abuse and domestic violence.

Larsen is in the process of completing another book that will act as a textbook for script analysis.  The book will complement her teaching style for going above and beyond what is asked so that her students grasp a strong understanding of each concept.

“I teach script analysis differently than anyone else,” Larsen said. “I tend to go more in depth than some graduate courses do.  I want my students to have a strong foundation so that they are prepared for what will be asked of them in their careers.”

Larsen’s exciting personality and eccentric outlook on life has continued to inspire theatre majors throughout the halls of FMU.  She believes her students walk out of the classroom confident in their abilities and thoroughly prepared to enter the theatrical world.