When students graduate from Muhlenberg, they often plan to come back and visit. Jon Reimer ‘06, however, took that one step further and came back as a professor. Teaching Japanese Theatre, Pan-Asian Theatre and Dramaturgy this semester, Professor Reimer has brought his passion for Asian theatre to Muhlenberg. When Reimer was a student here, he loved nothing more than Japanese theatre and culture. When the theatre department asked him what courses he wanted to teach this semester as a visiting professor, he already knew the answer: “I wanted to teach the classes that I wanted when I was here that they didn’t offer.”
Coming back to Muhlenberg was like a dream for Professor Reimer. He spoke in detail about how the geography is the same, the community is the same and even some of the faculty members are the same. The most unbelievable part for Reimer was being assigned a classroom in his old fraternity house. An alum of Phi Kappa Tau, Reimer walked into the now Hillside House to teach his first class in complete shock: “Exploring the space as my classroom was out of this world surreal.” Now, every Tuesday morning, Reimer sits in his old fraternity pool room and teaches students about Japanese theatre.
Reimer spoke in depth about how Japanese theatre differs from all other types in terms of aesthetic and how it is overall more focused on action and the body as opposed to the mind. Western theatre is often about the way the brain works, and actors can often get trapped in their heads. Japanese theatre helps students to separate their thoughts from their bodies and become more grounded in the art form and in theatre as a whole.
So, why Japanese theatre at Muhlenberg? What can our actors learn from these techniques? According to Reimer, Japanese theatre is rooted in physicality and focus, something that all actors can benefit from. Learning to control the body in an incredibly detailed way can prove useful in all areas of performance, from dancing to acting to singing. Japanese theatre, according to Reimer, is based on “a focus on the body and a focus on centering to the ground and breath control.” More than anything, Reimer wanted to come to Muhlenberg and make an impact on our theatre community. Introducing students to an entirely new art form is important to him, and it helps that he gets to teach something that he is so deeply passionate about. When asked what his goals were for his students this semester, Reimer replied, “First and foremost to have a better understanding and appreciation for what Japanese theatre is and what it entails.”
Next on the docket for Professor Reimer is finishing his PhD at the University of California San Diego. His research focuses on the intersection between Japanese theatre and queer performance, which is relatively untouched territory. How do these two connect, and why is it important that we study it? Without giving too much of his research away, Reimer is studying the Japanese idea of “ma” or “empty space,” and how the idea of ma has queer undertones.
Professor Reimer is an exceptional example of the amazing opportunities and adventures that await Muhlenberg graduates. He found his passion while he was here, and followed it to the ends of the earth. Though what he found interesting did not always excite others, he never let that stop him from pursuing an understanding of Japanese theatre and culture in full force. Stories like Reimer’s are important for students (especially seniors) to remember as graduation draws closer. If you are profoundly passionate about something, the opportunities that await you are endless. Above all, like Reimer, stay true to yourself. Don’t let what others think of your dreams or your passions affect them or the extent to which you pursue them. And who knows? Maybe you’ll be returning to Muhlenberg in 12 years to teach a class on something you really, truly love.