Joel Veenstra to be the next Chair in Drama

Photo: Joel Veenstra in the CTSA Arts Plaza. Photo by Emily Zheng.

Cultivating inclusivity, sustainability and well-being in theatre education

The UC Irvine Claire Trevor School of the Arts (CTSA) has named Professor of Teaching Joel Veenstra as the next chair of the Department of Drama. He currently serves as the department’s vice chair of production and co-head of stage management. Veenstra’s term will begin on July 1, 2024, upon the retirement of Don Hill, the current chair.

“It is an incredible honor being named chair, and even greater that I was elected by my colleagues under unanimous support in this new role,” said Veenstra. “It means a lot to me because there's a great deal of trust within this framework and we have a lot of dynamic changes ahead.”

Veenstra joined the department in 2012. As an educator, he strives to create an inclusive and equitable culture in the theatre community by nurturing the next generation of theatre professionals.

“I want to elevate the expectations and outcomes of our students to a higher level,” shared Veenstra. “Another focus for me as chair is sustainability and well-being. In theatre and the arts, we often work ourselves constantly because of our passion for what we do. To do great work, it is important to evaluate and model well-being in a way that doesn't undermine our health.”

As a proud Actor’s Equity Association stage manager, Veenstra has worked on countless productions for film and theatre across the United States and the United Kingdom. He has collaborated with esteemed creative organizations, including Cirque du Soleil, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Pasadena Playhouse, Cornerstone Theater Company in Los Angeles and Improbable, a performance art theatre company based in the U.K.

Veenstra has a robust academic foundation. He received a B.A. in Communication Arts and Sciences with a theatre concentration from Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and then an M.F.A. in drama from UC Irvine in 2011. As a professor, his teachings integrate his experience as an improvisor, encouraging his students to use different modes of theory and practice throughout their careers.

“Stage management is my primary research area, but my underlying passion is improvisation,” said Veenstra. “Improvisation is often seen as comedic, but to me, it's a way of thinking about how to engage with the world. We’re constantly improvising, making choices that have an impact, and deciding how to move forward. I use these concepts to challenge my students to be present, accept realities and build trust with collaborators to create solutions.”

In 2023, Professor Veenstra was awarded the prestigious Oscar Brockett Outstanding Teacher Award for Theatre in Higher Education, recognizing his exceptional contribution to nurturing creativity, communication and diversity in theatre education. Veenstra is committed to continuing his work of inclusivity and creative learning, aiming to impact a larger part of the CTSA drama community.

“I am focused on formalizing some of our systems to create solid structures that can be adapted and improvised upon,” Veenstra said. “Dean Tiffany López asks us to think about making ourselves more legible, and I’m excited to work on that. For instance, how do we make professional career options clearer for our students? How do we clarify the production process? How do we illuminate our innovations and artistic expressions? I’m also eager to invest more in our undergraduate population. It’s incredible how many of our undergraduates are on or off Broadway, making great strides in the industry professionally and for diversity, equity and inclusion.”

As Veenstra looks ahead, he remains grounded in fostering an environment that values every individual. He believes that recognizing the importance and potential of each person is fundamental to success.

“People are incredibly important as individuals. At the core, we are complex human beings shaped by a long history. So many factors had to align for us to be here, and we cannot undervalue that. Whether or not someone has a career in the arts, their creative spirit and unique perspective can be applied in many ways. It’s about being patient and knowing that your path will come. Even if things don’t go as planned, you’ll find your way forward. It’s a marathon, a long journey, and recognizing the importance and value of each individual is paramount.”

Learn more about the Department of Drama at

About the Claire Trevor School of the Arts: As UCI’s creative engine, the Claire Trevor School of the Arts has proven itself to be a national leader in training future generations of artists and scholars who inspire audiences in theaters, galleries, and concert halls – as well as in entertainment and technology-related venues throughout the world. CTSA combines artistic training with a top-ranked liberal arts education. It is home to the departments of art, dance, drama, and music, offering 15 undergraduate and graduate degree programs and two minors. CTSA is currently ranked No. 1 in affordable fine arts, drama/theater, and music degrees by the College Affordability Guide. Courses include extensive studio, workshop, and performance experiences; theoretical and historical studies; and arts and technology practices. CTSA’s nationally ranked programs begin with training but culminate in original invention. The distinguished, international faculty work across a wide variety of art forms and forge interdisciplinary partnerships with others across the campus. For more information,

About the University of California, Irvine: Founded in 1965, UCI is a member of the prestigious Association of American Universities and is ranked among the nation’s top 10 public universities by U.S. News & World Report. The campus has produced five Nobel laureates and is known for its academic achievement, premier research, innovation, and anteater mascot. Led by Chancellor Howard Gillman, UCI has more than 36,000 students and offers 224 degree programs. It’s located in one of the world’s safest and most economically vibrant communities and is Orange County’s second-largest employer, contributing $7 billion annually to the local economy and $8 billion statewide. For more on UCI, visit