As the sun sets on Whittier College each Wednesday night, Professor of Theatre and Communication Arts and Associate Dean of First Year Programs Gil Gonzalez welcomes students into his home, the Hartley House. Students from all corners of campus gather together to play board games, laughing alongside Gonzalez’s two daughters, Isabella and Celia. The House buzzes with the warmth of chatter between students, who, after a long day in class get to undwind in a place that feels like a home.
Gonzalez is not your ordinary professor. He is a professional actor, director, Chair of the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival Region 8, and Producing Artistic Director for and a founding member of the Enceladus Theatre Company. This year he has done all this while also residing as the current Faculty Master of the Hartley House.
This is Gonzalez’s thirteenth year at Whittier College. He moved to Los Angeles with his wife, Professor of Theatre and Communication Arts Katie Liddicoat, after they both graduated from the University of Virginia with their Master’s of Fine Arts in Acting.
Gonzalez teaches classes such as Introduction to Acting, Fundamentals of Stage Directing, Chicano Latino Theatre, Play Analysis and Criticism, and a first-year Writing Seminar class. “I’ve taught so many different classes over the years,” said Gonzalez. “A consistent favorite is always the Play Analysis and Criticism class.” Gonzalez’s acting and directing training helps him as a professor by challenging students to consider all aspects of theatre making as they read plays together.
In the Play Analysis and Criticism class, Gonzalez requires students to tweet their thoughts about the plays that they read in class. This method allows all students a unique opportunity to speak on the material. “I think it’s cool. It’s fun. It’s a different way to ask questions,” said Gonzalez. “Maybe you’re shy, and you don’t like to participate, so it’s a different way to engage students.”
He also loves teaching the performance classes, especially the directing class. Many students have told Gonzalez that he is a difficult grader in that class, as he holds both actors and directors to high standards.
Gonzalez also directs shows at Whittier College and for other theatre companies, having directed up to over 50 shows. He recently directed Shakespeare’s Hamlet at Whittier College. “I never felt like we would have a person like we had with Ruben Sanchez, who is graduating this year, who could carry the part [of Hamlet],” said Gonzalez. “It’s great when you see seniors rise to that level of capability, when they have enough talent to hone and focus their ability to play a role as challenging as Hamlet.”
Some of Gonzalez’s other favorite shows are Scapin by Moliere, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, As You Like It, and Twelfth Night, all by William Shakespeare. “As often as I can do Shakespeare, I’m going to do it … there has been a ton of Shakespeare, and I hope there is a ton more,” said Gonzalez.
One of Gonzalez’s hopes is to de-mystify Shakespeare. “If people can get over the fear that Shakespeare is too difficult to understand, then we can unlock what he means and convey that to an audience, and we can do it in a clear way,” said Gonzalez. “I like the challenge of working on language that isn’t so typical … as an actor, I feel like it’s the most challenging work to do because of all the prep you have to do.” Gonzalez not only loves directing Shakespeare, he enjoys acting, too, and said that the words of Shakespeare stick in his head better than other plays that he has been in.
Besides teaching theatre classes and directing shows, Gonzalez is also the Associate Dean of First Year Programs. “I’ve had such a good time the last [four years],” said Gonzalez. “When I first came to the position, I think I was really intimidated about what it meant to be an administrator, because the title sounded scary to me.”
What Gonzalez has loved the most about his role is the interaction he has had with students and the resources he has been able to provide for both students and faculty. “What I’ve really learned and appreciated is [that] I’ve had the opportunity to work with first-year students each of the last four years and provide opportunities for them.”
Gonzalez emphasized that his role is to support student and faculty success through meaningful and impactful student and faculty interaction. “I don’t really think I’ve done all that much. I think it’s the faculty mentors who do all the work and deserve all the credit,” said Gonzalez. “It’s important that we have somebody organizing the budgets, managing things, [and] helping arrange excursions [and] events for students.”
While Gonzalez does take care of administrative duties as the Associate Dean of First Year Programs, his favorite part is giving back to the community. “The best thing has been working with the faculty and the students all for the common goal of giving first-year students a really meaningful community-building experience at the College,” said Gonzalez.
Gonzalez has continued to give back through his role as a Faculty Master. The role always appealed to him, even back when he applied for the job at Whittier 13 years ago. “I thought it sounded fun, and I think it is. It’s really rewarding seeing students come to your house and hang out with themselves in a non-academic feeling way,” said Gonzalez. “I wouldn’t trade it away for anything.”
For Gonzalez, being a Faculty Master has not changed much about his life at Whittier, besides the way he gets to interact with students. “It’s fun living up by the athletics area. You hear a lot of athletic energy; it’s kind of a cool energy. It’s a different experience,” said Gonzalez. “I get to go home and have 20 students in my house, and that’s cool.”
“What we’ve really been trying to do the last couple of years … are dinners for all the first-year mentor groups,” said Gonzalez. “I felt like, the more we get the first-year students in the Houses, the more likely that they’ll come back to the Houses for future events.” Other events that have taken place at the House include game nights and the Difficult Conversation series events. Gonzalez has also hosted several speakers for the Modern Languages Department, as well as several class sessions. The events that have taken place at Hartley House have often been collaborative efforts from many departments.
Gonzalez hopes to support all students and make everyone feel welcome in his home, while bringing different perspectives to campus. “One of the things that we’re really thinking about intentionally is, how do we promote more diversity in the faculty programming? How do we represent underrepresented groups?” said Gonzalez. “This is such a dynamic campus with so many types of people. Everyone’s opinions matter. We’re going to keep working to promote diversity and inclusivity.”
Hartley House is an open space for all, and Gonzalez is always open to collaborate with groups of students. “I encourage students to reach out to me. I want to work with the students as much as possible,” said Gonzalez. “The Houses are really for the students. I’m really just the shepherd.”