Arts Advocates: Joel Veenstra

Image: UCI Professor of Drama Joel Veenstra (Photo: Emily Zheng)


Q&A with Joel Veenstra

Professor Joel Veenstra, M.F.A. ’11, is a professional stage manager whose production credits span Los Angeles to London, and who co-leads the Department of Drama’s stage management program as a professor of teaching in the Claire Trevor School of the Arts. As co-founder of the Global Improvisation Initiative and a member of the Applied Improvisation Network, Veenstra also teaches improvisation skills to business executives and healthcare professionals to spur their creativity, connection and innovation. Additionally, he is a longtime supporter of CTSA’s Theatre Guild and a charter member of the Claire Trevor Society. 

Q. As an alum and now a faculty member, what are the biggest changes you’ve seen at CTSA over the years?

JV: I’ve been amazed at how far CTSA alumni have gone in the field of entertainment – Broadway, regional theater, Blue Man Group, Cirque du Soleil as examples. There’s been this explosion of UCI alumni infiltrating the entertainment industry and creating a network that supports one another, which seemed like it was just in its infancy when I was a grad student.

Q. Providing professional pathways in the arts is a key priority for CTSA. What are some of the ways the Department of Drama supports these opportunities?

JV: One of the most amazing and unique things about our department is how well connected our faculty are to industry and how dynamic and diverse those connections are – from Broadway to Disney. Each of us has a professional network and, since we are actively working, we’re building more relationships all the time. These connections open professional pathways for our students into internships and jobs that put them in the national and international arena.

Q. What words of wisdom do you offer the CTSA students who aspire to theater or film careers like yours?

JV: I tell my students to constantly be looking for the open door. If you’re excited about a particular path, and a door opens, then walk through it and keep going. But if it seems like a closed door, that’s time and space telling you that’s not your opportunity right now. But that doesn’t mean you can’t be utilizing your skills, your interest, your passion, and your artistic voice and vision in another path right now.

Q. With a new dean, CTSA is embarking on a new chapter. What are you most excited about?

JV: I’m excited about Dean [Tiffany] López’s fresh perspective and her strong vision for building partnerships and collaborations, and integrating arts across UCI. She has really exciting ideas for supporting our student artists in a way that benefits the artistic world while also realizing arts can be integrated in many areas.

Q. What inspires you to provide philanthropic support to CTSA, in addition to dedicating your time and talent as a professor?

JV: The Theatre Guild and Claire Trevor Society are important to me because supporting the arts is a communal effort and has been throughout history. In ancient Greece, entire cities would gather their resources to create theater and celebrate together. Today, there’s not a nonprofit performing arts institution in the world that doesn’t need additional funding to make their art possible – ticket sales rarely cover more than 50% of expenses. Art is good for our community, our connectedness, culture, empathy and creative thinking. It’s hard to quantify, but art helps us build a better society.

Q. In this issue of CONNECT, we’re reflecting on CTSA’s role as a creative engine. How does your work in the Department of Drama help power that creative engine?

JV: The arts help us to tap into creativity and, at CTSA, we provide a structured way to build those creative muscles. We’re crafting a framework through the arts that helps access the new or unknown. We have the potential to unlock creativity in other fields and industries by harnessing the imagination through the collaborative process. We’re like gasoline with combustible potential to ignite nonlinear ideas driving humanity to innovation. 

To learn more about ways to support CTSA, contact Sarah Strozza, Senior Director of Development, at 949-824-0629 or

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CONNECT - Winter 2023

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