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Tuesday, May 28, 2024
The independent student publication of The University at Buffalo, since 1950

All the world's a stage

A former successful copyright lawyer from a major law firm in Washington, DC, doesn't seem like the type of person who would be the department chair of theatre and dance at a chief university. However, Robert Knopf, Ph.D., of UB's theatre and dance department, is just that phenomenon, most likely because of his easy-spirited life motto.

"Life is like an ocean," Knopf said. "You can aim for one spot, but you'll never get there and be happy unless you let the waves take you somewhere and push you around. They may take you someplace you never intended."

Knopf's life story has held true to his personal motto thus far. A New York City native, Knopf graduated from Northern Valley Regional High School in N.J. with the intentions of attending Oberlin College as a psychology major.

"I was raised in New York and New Jersey, although I don't usually admit to living in New Jersey," Knopf said.

Knopf did not take his first acting class until his sophomore year at Oberlin College in Ohio, but he enjoyed it so much that he decided to take another. After his second successful acting class, he gained the courage to audition for his first acting role in Bird Bath, which was a two-person show about a twisted inner-city romance.

The success of his acting classes and the overall liberal atmosphere at Oberlin College influenced Knopf to switch from a psychology major to a film major.

"Oberlin's idea of a hot Friday night was staying up until three in the morning talking about ideas," Knopf said. "I loved that."

He still uses his psychology minor background to make him a better director, giving him the ability to better understand the writer's motivations in his productions.

By his junior year, Knopf was ready for a change in his college scene. He decided to create his own version of studying abroad with his friend, Evan Gerstmann, who was looking for a place to enjoy mountain hiking, while Knopf was looking for a place to enjoy both skiing and filmmaking. They decided to study for a semester at Boulder University in Colorado.

While Gerstmann was studying for the LSAT at Boulder, Knopf nonchalantly decided to take the test with his friend. After scoring exceptionally well, Knopf's friends convinced him to apply to law school, despite his true passion of theater and film.

"Once I did well, it was like a train I couldn't get off of," Knopf said.

After graduating from Oberlin College, Knopf attended Duke University Law School.

"It was completely a fluke," Knopf said.

After obtaining his law degree from Duke University Law, he moved to Washington, D.C., to work as a copyright lawyer, finding and prosecuting criminals involved with counterfeit products.

"It was completely a fluke," Knopf said. "I represented Major League Baseball and a lot of cartoon characters,"

Knopf thought he would someday be an entertainment lawyer, but his law career was not going in the direction he had hoped. After seeing a co-worker crying over a stock market crash, Knopf decided to leave the field of law.

"If I was going to work 60 to 70 hours a week, I wanted to do something I cared about," Knopf said.

After obtaining his MFA in directing, Knopf moved to NYC to direct off-Broadway productions. While in New York, Knopf met his wife, Liz. Within a half hour of meeting her, he knew they had a future.

Knopf and Liz were looking into Ph.D. programs at the same time - she for a political science program, while he looked for a dramaturgy program. The two decided they wanted to stay together, both attending Michigan State University (MSU).

"It was the best decision of my life," Knopf said.

After he obtained his Ph.D. from Michigan State University (MSU), Knopf became an assistant chair of the department of theatre and dance at Purdue University. While there, he published one of his best-selling and most famous books, Theater and Cinema of Buster Keaton.

The success of the book made him visible as a professor, which led him back to MSU for a job as director of graduate studies in theater.

From MSU, Knopf accepted another offer from Connecticut College, a smaller school, but closer to New York City, which would allow him opportunities to direct again.

Although Knopf was happy at Connecticut College, he wanted to work for a larger university where he could build a department that could produce.

Knopf moved to Buffalo four years ago and now resides in Clarence with his wife Liz and their two daughters, Amelia and Lara.

"Buffalo is a hidden gem," Knopf said. "Buffalo combines the ironic sensibility of New Yorkers, with the friendliness of Westerners."

Knopf has been writing books and directing while in Buffalo. His first UB production, The Shape of Things, recently ended its run as a major success in the theatre department. He also has directed at the Irish Classical Theatre and is planning a Shakespearian production for next fall.

Besides his job, Knopf greatly enjoys skiing and golfing, but he finds his family to be the most important part of his life.

"The best professors and chairs do their best work when they put it in perspective while continuing to pursue their other passions," Knopf said. "The fullness of our lives is more important than (our) level of success."



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