Professor - Head of Playwriting - Theatre & Dance
Norman Bert teaches playwriting and dramatic analysis at Texas Tech University. Besides playwriting and dramatic structures, his research interests focus on the interface of religion and theatre and on theatre for social justice.
During the first 30 years of his life, Bert grew up in southern California, graduated from a college that closed a year later, got married, earned a pastoral theology degree from a Mennonite seminary, pastored a church in Indiana, taught in a mission school in Zambia, traveled around the world, wrote an abortive novel, and had a daughter and a son. Then came theatre.
He earned a master’s degree from Kansas State University where he studied playwriting with Joel Climenhaga, Wesley Van Tassel, and Norman Fedder then a PhD from Indiana University where he studied theatre history with Oscar Brockett and playwriting with Sam Smiley.
He taught theatre—first for six years at Messiah College in Pennsylvania and then for 14 years at Eastern Montana College. In 1995 he came to Texas Tech and chaired the Theatre and Dance Department for five years. Happily bidding adieu to administrative duties, he has focused on teaching and writing plays ever since.
Along the way he published a three-volume series of One-Act Plays for Acting Students, a Scene-Book for Actors, an anthology of historically significant plays, and two books outside the area of theatre. He also collaborated with Sam Smiley on fashioning the second edition of Smiley’s classic Playwriting: The Structure of Action. His essay “Mark and Aristotle: The Christ Embodied as Tragic Hero,” first published in The Christian Scholar’s Review, was selected as one of 25 articles for a festschrift celebrating the 40th anniversary of that journal.
Early in his playwriting career, Bert focused on religiously-inspired scripts such as Jeremiah of Anathoth (his master’s thesis play at Kansas State University) and Woolman (about the colonial anti-slavery Quaker). Gradually he began to write plays in a more general mode such as his comic melodrama Riders of the Golden Sphinx published by Baker’s Plays. In more recent years he has returned to religious subject matter (Scenes from a Romance: A Play on the Book of Hosea, showcased by the PlayWorks program of the Association for Theatre in Higher Education) and social criticism topics such as race relations (America Shows Her Colors, winner of University of Illinois’ Inner Voices Social Issues competition) and poverty (The Gospel According to Jesse, a documentary drama about homelessness). Currently he finds himself focusing on short pieces on topics related to these issues—plays like The Ring, performed by Binghamton, New York’s, Därkhorse Drämatists in June, 2013.
While Bert finds much of organized Christianity offensive, his attachment to the man Jesus leads him to believe that, contrary to all expectations, poverty and racism will one day end. He’d like his plays to help nudge things in that direction.