The retirement of Kansas University English professor Paul Lim will also mean the end of a 21-year run for a local theater that produced student-written plays.
Lim started the English Alternative Theatre in 1989 when he became a playwriting professor in the English department.
“I wanted to do for students what was done for me,” Lim said on Monday.
In 1975, after writing short stories and other fiction, Lim wrote his first play. It was produced by the KU theater department, and it went on to earn a national honor from the Kennedy Center in Washington.
He estimated that EAT featured 55 full productions and about 100 staged readings during the time in which it ran. About 15 of the productions were of classic plays — often at the same time they were being taught in the English department.
But the vast majority of the theater’s work involved students’ work that had never before seen the stage.
Ken Willard, a student who was involved in the early days of the theater, had two productions staged by Lim, whom he called an “absolutely brilliant” professor who made the price of tuition worthwhile.
“When you write a play, he will examine every line as you go through,” said Willard, who is today an English teacher at Wyandotte High School in Kansas City, Kan. “He gives you feedback, gives you suggestions... He’s a master at his craft.”
Willard has been provisionally accepted to return to school to continue to pursue a Master’s of Fine Arts degree. He said he appreciated working with Lim because he was always very close to his students and willing to assist them.
Though the English department has hired a new playwriting professor, that person will not take up the duties of running EAT, said Lim, who devoted much of his time to issues like finding volunteer actors at other auditions, looking for qualified people to build sets and finding spaces to rehearse. He said he’ll miss the people — and the plays and budding playwrights the program produced.
“It’s my understanding that, in fact, the EAT is the only play-producing organization housed within an English department in the United States,” Lim said.
Without the many obligations of running the EAT, Lim said he’ll probably travel more after he officially retires next month, and return to writing plays. He said he’ll still live in Lawrence.
Before starting the theater, he estimated he was writing a play a year. In the 21 years of operating the theater, he only would write three more.
There are a few ideas bouncing around in his head, still, he said. He’d like to write two plays about issues that he encountered while at KU: one involving a student accusing a professor of sexual harassment and the other involving affirmative action and political correctness at universities.
“I’ve spent a lot of time in Lawrence, Kansas,” said Lim, who has lived here since January 1969. “I’d like to give back to the city by writing about it.”