Tuesday, July 20, 2010
Paul Lim’s last act: playwriting in retirement
By Sarah Henry
The University’s loss was the theater world’s gain when Professor Paul Lim retired this spring. After teaching playwriting for more than two decades, Lim decided, at age 66, it was time to concentrate on his own writing.
Lim’s award-winning work draws inspiration from life, but is not necessarily autobiographical. He uses his experience to add dimension to characters, but in the absence of experience, he said, research would suffice.
“You don’t have to have been on death row to write about death row,” he said.
Lim also said he had a habit of tucking away in his memory things he saw every day in passing — interesting turns of phrase or intriguing articles that may have inspired him.
Most immediately, Lim is working on a play that deals with issues brought to light in a 1980s harassment case at the University, which eventually led to a law professor’s dismissal. Lim has access to court hearing records and is unsure if he will use specifics, but he said he intended to use basic ideas from the case as a jumping-off point for his play. Although Lim will have a reading of the play when he completes a first draft, he said it was premature to think about productions.
Prior to enrolling at KU, Lim worked for newspapers and in advertising. As a student at the University, he was offered a position as a graduate teaching assistant.
“When I started teaching,” said Lim. “I found that I loved teaching as well, which wasn’t something I had ever thought about or considered, so it was kind of by accident. A happy accident.”
In 1990, Lim founded the English Alternative Theatre as a way to bring together student actors and student playwrights. The inspiration for this method of teaching came from his own experience in the 70s when the University unexpectedly announced the production of his very first play.
Now, with Lim’s departure, the English Alternative Theater’s run comes to an end.
Lim said he thought it was important for student playwrights to see their work performed on stage, because a student writer may find words that sound right in their heads are hard for actors to deliver, or don’t communicate properly what the playwright intended.
Among his students and colleagues, Lim is well loved and respected for his passion and ability to guide students without taking over their creative processes.
“He’s someone who touches people’s lives and changes them and allows them to grow and become the better for it,” said Zacory Boatright, a former student of Lim’s. “KU is losing a huge, wonderful asset in Paul Lim’s retirement,”
Despite the time retirement affords Lim to work on his own writing, he says there are parts of teaching he’ll miss.
“It allows us to keep in touch with young people, the pulse beat of America and how language is being used,” Lim said.
In his retirement, Lim will continue to live in Lawrence, but said he would like to travel to visit family in other parts of the United States and in the Philippines.
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