Professor Charles Dietrich Brings His Love for the Arts to Baruch College
Take a walk through Baruch College’s Department of Fine and Performing Arts, and you’ll immediately notice a liberally decorated front desk with postcards of famous art works, theater performance fliers, and memorable quotes like, “Art Isn’t Easy” and “The world is a stage, but the play is badly cast.” This desk belongs to Charles Dietrich, Baruch College professor of theater and office manager of the Department of Fine and Performing Arts. Dietrich can quote a line out of any Shakespeare play at a moment’s notice, name any piece of historical art, and has probably read or seen most plays worth reading or watching. Outside of Baruch, Dietrich has also acted, directed, and produced dozens of fine arts performances.
“I think my interest in theater began in seventh grade, in a music class. A girl in the class was doing a report on South Pacific, the musical. The teacher came in with the script and the original cast recording and he showed us exactly how the songs were made to fit into the scenes, and I thought, ‘Wow that’s interesting,’ and that really got me,” says Dietrich.
The native New Yorker received his Bachelors degree in speech and theater arts from SUNY Cortland and his Masters in theater from SUNY Binghamton in 1972. Dietrich is also no stranger to CUNY, having worked three years toward a PhD in theater history from the CUNY Graduate Center. Always interested in liberal arts, the professor started his undergraduate studies as an English major. “I got to Cortland and they had auditions for Androcles and the Lion, a play by George Bernard Shaw. I tried out and got in and then I found out they had a theater department. So I changed majors without telling my parents -- I told them later. This was the ’60s. We were a rebellious generation -- I didn’t ask, I just told them I did it,” he says, laughing.
After four post–college years in Binghamton, Dietrich returned to New York City to act in off-Broadway productions, the first of which was a play called Line, by Israel Horovitz. He took jobs both on and behind the stage for quite a few years, but claims no experience has quite compared to his time here at Baruch. His love for both the school and the stage is evident by his participation in several student productions including Life Under 30, The Servant of Two Masters, Zombies from the Beyond, Dr. Faustus: Occult Remix, and Blade to The Heat. He has also been a participant in Baruch’s choir and serves as the Fine Arts Department’s office manager, where he helps guide students on their program options. And though Dietrich teaches basic theater classes at the College, his interests in the arts extend to all forms including fine arts, architecture, music, and film.
Asked whether he finds Baruch College students receptive to arts classes, Dietrich says, “At first, they’re not. That’s what it is with the introduction courses; they have to take it the way I had to take chemistry when I was in college. But I’ve also had many students become theater minors yet keep their Finance majors. And I remind people, hey, every actor needs a business manager -- so you can still get into the arts [if you’re interested in business],” he says.
Though Baruch may not offer basic painting or drawing classes, arts programming at the College is meant to prepare students who wish to work in the arts industry, whether that might mean becoming a curator at a gallery or museum or working in music management. “I tell students Baruch may not put you on the stage at Carnegie Hall, but we’ll put you in the office.”
With this in mind, Dietrich works hard to find new ways to motivate his students in the classroom. One exercise he’s used for many years is especially useful in teaching theater to newcomers. “I remember when I was a little kid, an art teacher would play music and give us a colored pencil with some paper and told us to close our eyes and just let our hands do whatever the music was telling us to do. I do something similar in my theater class to get people to understand the difference between neoclassicism and romanticism. I turn off the lights and play Beethoven’s 5th Symphony and tell them to close their eyes and just listen and let the music take them on a journey. Because romanticism is just about feeling, an emotional approach to the world, [while] neoclassicism is an intellectual approach,” he says.
When Dietrich is not acting, directing, traveling, or working at Baruch, he’s attending plays. He recalls one of his best theater experiences being Gypsy at 13 years old, one of the first Broadway shows he ever saw. “When I came out of Gypsy, I was with a cousin of mine, and I said to her, ‘I want to do that.’ At this point, I understood how songs fit into the story. And I just became a fan. I [later] saw Ethel Merman again in Hello Dolly and I had to go because I said to myself, ‘Was I just this impressionable 13-year-old kid sitting in the balcony blown away by this woman?’ And then after I saw that, I thought, ‘no I was right.’”
—Johanna Marie Ferreira