Get to Know Your Professors: This Issue: Q & A with Gerry Roe (Professor of Theatre Arts)

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photo by Brandon Keim

photo by Brandon Keim

By: Kasha Caprata –

Name: Gearld B. Roe (a.k.a. Ben (Benny) Berg). As a child, I lived with my step-father whose last name was Berg. My family always called me Ben or Benny. When I turned 12, I needed to acquire a social security card. At that time, my mother told me, much to my surprise, that my name was Gearld Ben Roe. When I questioned her about the misspelling on Gearld, she said that the nurse brought in the birth certificate. The nurse misspelled my name and mom was too “high” to notice it. Thus, my life has been spent fighting my first name.

Originated From: I was born in Caliente, Nev. Being miners, both my father and stepfather moved around frequently, never being able to keep jobs. My family never lived in one place longer than six months until I was eight years old. My mother finally put her foot down and we settled in Pocatello, Idaho, living with my Uncle Darrel.

Undergraduate/Masters/Ph.D. Programs: My freshman year I attended Idaho State University. After my freshman year, I wanted to go try my hand at professional theater. I quit school and took a 10-year stint in Hollywood, trying to “break” into the “business.” I had a few minor successes; I had a speaking role in one episode of the old TV series “Rawhide.” For eight months, I played a genie in a children’s show (four shows a week), and for one year, I was in “The Fantastiks”(six performances weekly).

My mother was having some problems and moved to Salt Lake City, Utah. I followed her. While there, I found a great job working in a country club doing buffet work, which I kept for six years. Also, it was in Salt Lake City that I met my first wife and decided to return to school at the University of Utah where I received a BFA majoring in musical theatre. While still at the University of Utah, I continued to earn my MFA in children’s theatre. After three years, I realized I was little more than a glorified babysitter. I moved on quickly.

On a fluke, I prepared a couple of scenes and went to the University/ Resident Theatre Association (URTA), which is a national theater conference. While there, I auditioned for summer stock and graduate schools. I received 10 different offers for scholarships to graduate schools. I chose Wayne State University in Detroit to work on my Ph.D. for two reasons. First, they had a classical repertory company which ran for the full school year, with as many as seven plays running at the same time. Every theatre graduate student had to act in all seven, no exceptions. Secondly, I was required to teach one class per semester.

Inspiration for Becoming a Professor: My future plans were, at that time, to use teaching as a financial supplement to support my hopes of becoming a successful professional actor. As fate would have it, I heard through the grapevine of an opening for a teaching position at Montana State University
in Bozeman, a position formerly held by Bill Pullman. I was offered the position. It was a great opportunity as I was the only professor teaching the acting, directing, and theatre history classes. I accepted the job because I felt I must share my love and respect of theatre with others.

The Definition of Education: Education, to me, is the building of the students’ passions to the level of a successful professional, and beyond.

Draw to Rocky Mountain College: I’d heard of a job opening in Bangor, Maine. I applied and I obtained an opportunity to travel to Maine for an interview. I received a call indicating that I had landed the position. I tendered my resignation at MSU. Subsequently, I was informed that the former instructor in Maine was continuing for another year. Fortunately, there was a small touring company, the Vigilante Players, which travel through Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho. They invited me to be a member of that company, and I toured for a year.

The executive director of Billings Studio Theater, an old friend from Wayne State University, invited me to direct “Little Shop of Horrors” here in Billings. I expounded upon the professor of theatre situation here at Rocky through two students who had become quick friends; they set up a meeting between the President of Rocky and myself. The meeting lasted 20 minutes and I was hired. I began teaching two weeks hence and for the last 30 years.

The Best and Worst Things About Being a Professor: The best things are to make a difference in a student’s life, to hone her or his talents, and to impart the needed experience(s) of the many aspects of theatre. Put another way—to plant the seeds, water and feed them, and watch them grow. Jason Earles (Hannah Montana, Kickin’ It) was one such seed.

The worst things are watching the students come and go. Most graduating theatre seniors are not only my students, but my friends. It is often difficult to say good-bye.

Advice for New Students: Commit yourself and all that you are to the phenomenon called a college education. Be proud of your successes. But most of all, relish your failure – for there your growth comes. Be a sponge. Demand feeding. Waste not a moment!

This Year’s Agenda: Sadly, and joyfully, retirement.

Goals: As a professor, my main goal has been and always will be to make a difference in students’ lives – to challenge them in the classroom, to provide plays that will force them to take that next step to become a good actor, and to provide for their futures.


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