When it comes to fulfilling the Arts GenEd requirement, there is a reason that Theatre 100 is at the top of the majority of students’ lists: Rob Schneider. No, not the vacant-gazed actor who has starred in a disappointing number of crap comedy flicks. If he were student’s inspiration to learn more about theatre, then art would most certainly be dead.
I’m talking about Professor Robert W. Schneider. A quick glance at Schneider’s Rate My Professor page, and you will see how highly regarded he is by his students:
“The man, the myth, the legend.”
“Some people have asked me to compare THEA 100/Rob to a moment in history; I say, it would have been the day when the Americans rose up to conquer the British and George Washington (Rob Schneider) became a national hero.”
Born in Brooklyn, Schneider’s family moved to Los Angeles when he was about 6-years-old. While neither of his parents were involved with acting, they were obsessed with the arts, so almost every weekend since he was 2-years-old, they attended a Broadway show.
“That’s kind of how it got into my blood; I didn’t know any different. I wish they would have done, you know, nutrition or sports or something, but no, it was just me sitting on my ass in shows in the dark.”
When Schneider entered junior high he began participating at a local community theater that he described as “intimate” (see Waiting for Guffman to understand). Initially, he was put to work doing “child labor,” lifting objects and the ilk. Eventually, a show came about that required an actor around his age, so he auditioned and got the part.
At the age of 13, Schneider began professional film and TV work. He acted in an episode of The X-Files, an episode of Gilmore Girls, and even found himself in a music video with LL Cool J.
Unfortunately, he does not remember which song it was, nor has he ever seen the video. However, Schneider explained that when he arrived at the shoot that his agent had directed him to, they were really only looking for actors of color. So if you ever see a LL Cool J video that features “about 50 African American kids and a fat, little white kid in the back,” that’s the one.
Soon enough, Schneider discovered that TV and film were not his calling, stating that they never sat well with him.
“If you are doing theater, and you are good, you are going to get the part. If you are doing TV and film, and you are the best person for the job, you just might not get that part because your eyes aren’t blue. Or you’re too fat, or too skinny, or you’re too white, too black, too straight, too gay. It gets very, very physical. And that was hard. It was really, really hard hearing that.”
He made his directing debut at the age of 18. His high school’s drama teacher was preoccupied with a new baby to really focus on directing shows, so Schneider grabbed the reigns. While he still acted in his directing debut, Schneider discovered that he enjoyed directing a lot more than he did acting.
“I really like telling stories, and I really like collaboration. When you are acting, you are only focused on your part and nothing else. When you are directing, you are in charge of everything. You are in charge of what color the girls’ dresses are going to be and how an actor is going to say that line. I love creating it and sitting back and watching the audience react to it.”
Out of high school, Schneider attended California Lutheran University, a small liberal arts school located between Los Angeles and Santa Barbara. Wanting to try something new, and having a father who was heavily involved in politics, he received a bachelor’s degree in political science. But he knew that he would soon return to the theater.
After a year off, Schneider began applying to graduate schools, his eyes set on Penn State. Why here? Because Penn State is the only school in the world that offers an MFA in directing musical theatre. Admitting only one student per year out of about 300 applicants worldwide, Schneider was accepted into the program in 2006, the youngest director allowed at the age of 23. In the three-year program, being the only student made him very self-reliant.
“There really wasn’t much of a support system in terms of other students. And you’re the only one, so you can’t escape with anything. All of the focus is on you, so you can’t screw up. Which is really cool.”
While Schneider may not have had classmates to turn to when times got tough, he had full access to the minds of Cary Libkin (the former head of MFA directing programs that selected Schneider) and Susan H. Schulman (who took over the program during the latter part of Schneider’s study).
During his time as a student, Schneider had the opportunity to direct several musicals and plays, and even was a graduate director in the Theatre 100 company. In his last year, the former Theatre 100 teacher, Annie McGregor, needed to leave for two months, and so she asked Schneider to fill in for her. Worried at first because he had never taught before, Schneider decided that he could “act like he was a teacher,” and found that he loved it.
Upon her return, McGregor heard raving reviews of her replacement. No longer desiring to teach the class, she asked Schneider if he would be interested in taking over it permanently.
As a fresh member of the theater department, Schneider wasted little time in making a huge impact. He co-created Theatre 105 with McGregor (the online version of Theatre 100), created Theatre 107 (introduction to dramatic structure), created Theatre 112 (introduction to music theatre), and began teaching several other theatre courses in history, directing, and so on. However, Theatre 100 is Schneider’s favorite.
“I’m an actor at heart, so I get a guaranteed audience two times a week, and they can’t leave or else they get an F. It’s the best thing imaginable for an actor. My thing with Theatre 100 is that I’m not concerned whether a student can remember which play Henrik Ibsen wrote 20 years from now. What I’m really concerned about is that the next time they have the opportunity to go see a show, after taking Theatre 100, they will go see that show.
“I want them to think theater is fun; it’s not boring, it’s not old, it’s not stuffy. It’s so easy to be entertained these days, so to pay the money, get dressed up, and sit in an uncomfortable seat takes some effort. But I want students to know it’s worth it; you’re going to be greatly rewarded in the end. When I see students at a show in town and they are there because they love theater now, not because they are required to for a class, I feel like my job is done.”
For any who have had the opportunity to take Theatre 100 with Schneider (or any of his classes), it would be difficult to describe him as anything less than a great teacher. While Schneider is not sure whether he is actually a good teacher, he knows what a bad teacher is and has done everything to avoid falling into the same pattern.
“I had some horrible teachers in college. They never looked like they wanted to be there. They were so arrogant, self-involved, and boring. They were more concerned with collecting their paychecks and conducting their research than they were with teaching students. [The students] are paying me. You’re putting a roof over my head, so why wouldn’t I give you 100 percent every single day? I think a lot of teachers forget that. The students are your number one priority, and the rest is on the periphery.”
With his three-year contract coming to a close, Schneider’s boss wanted to put him on a tenure track. However, Schneider has “never wanted to stay too late at the party,” and so he had to make the decision of whether he was prepared to permanently settle down in State College or explore. Talking with his partner of four years, Schneider decided it was time to try out a new adventure.
So what is next for him? Well, a couple weeks ago it was Los Angeles, and the next week it was New York. One idea is to start up a program to help prep high school students who want to study theatre in college. But with so many options in his view, Schneider has not settled on a certain destination or occupation. Wherever it may be, Schneider does not intend to sever his ties with the university, and leaves open the possibility of returning in time.
“You can to go to any other college campus in the world, and you will not meet the same kind of people like you will at Penn State. The students are wonderful and kind, and so is the faculty. This place goes above and beyond to create a family, and you don’t always realize that until you have some distance from it. You may leave State College, but you never leave Penn State.”
Onward State: Do a lot of people give you shit for your name?
Rob Schneider: There’s one guy that works here that makes a joke every time he sees me. You know that South Park episode? I’m in the bathroom and he comes in and he says something like, “Rob Schneider is a stapler!” So every day of the week, except for the weekends. Unless I run into him at the supermarket.
OS: Please rate the following films in order of their contribution to the art of acting: Deuce Bigalow, Male Gigolo; Deuce Bigalow, European Gigolo; Hot Chick; and Grown Ups.
RS: The Animal (“Make sure you let everyone know I’m very offended this wasn’t an option”); Hot Chick; Deuce Bigalow, Male Gigolo; Grown Ups; Deuce Bigalow, European Gigolo.
OS: Team Edward or Team Jacob?
RS: Is there a team “can I shoot myself?” Because I’m on that team.
OS: What was in the FedEx box at the end of Cast Away?
RS: A bill. How horrible is that?
OS: Is Tony Soprano alive or dead?
RS: Oh, he’s dead.
OS: Is Leo awake or still dreaming at the end of Inception?
RS: He’s still dreaming. He’s stuck; he can’t escape.
OS: Why can’t he escape though?
RS: Because I said so.
OS: What was your favorite moment(s) as a teacher here at Penn State?
RS: One is about one of my previous TAs named Nathan. He really just can’t handle vomit. During a final, a girl came up to hand in her scantron who must have been sick because she vomited all over the table and all over Nathan. Another guy near her was one of those people who vomits whenever they see someone else vomit, so he is vomiting too. Nathan jumped 20-feet in the air, huddled in a corner, and screamed and cried. Then, the guy who vomited second just slapped his test on top of all of the vomit on the table.
OS: So did everyone have to retake the test or what happened?
RS: No, we just had to take them all out and let them dry in the sun. It was disgusting.
OS: What is one last thing you would like to say to students?
RS: It’s your money, so take responsibility for your education. If a professor isn’t giving you that, bang down that door until you get what you need.
OS: If you could be a dinosaur, which one would you be and why?
RS: A velociraptor. Why? Because they are incredibly fiesty.