J.D. Ackman, coordinator of theatre, will be retiring in August after 32 years of service. Ackman served as the managing and artistic director of Prairie Repertory Theatre from 2007 to 2021 and the director of State University Theatre and Dance from 2010 to 2022. His last show opens this week.
Ackman began working at South Dakota State University as an assistant professor, teaching over 16 courses ranging from theatre to speech communication. In his role as managing and artistic director of PRT and director of SUTD, he coordinated promotion for both organizations, directed performances, managed student scholarships, budgeted, wrote grants and worked closely with colleagues to ensure quality theatre education for students.
Ackman, a 1978 SDSU graduate, said he has far too many memorable moments to only mention one or two. Some important milestones in his career included when Doner Auditorium became air-conditioned, when PRT made its permanent move to the Oscar Larson Theatre, the opening of the original Performing Arts Center and finally, the expansion of the facility to become the Oscar Larson Performing Arts Center in 2019.
“Above all, the most memorable moments have to do with teaching, directing and even performing with the students,” Ackman explained. “The saying that, ‘teachers plant trees whose shade they will never experience’ is not entirely true for me. Our alums have taken many paths. Some have continued to have careers in theatre as professionals, high school and university educators, arts administrators, designers and technicians. Others have found their way in other disciplines, using what they acquired in our liberal arts degree program to be successful.
“When I talk with former students, my primary question is, ‘Are you happy?’ If their answer is affirmative, then that is what I most hope and wish for them,” Ackman continued. “Watching students grow artistically and personally at a critical point in their lives has been the most satisfying part of the job. I would like to believe I helped them grow.”
One of his proudest accomplishments comes from the work he and his colleagues put into SDSU being accredited by the National Association of Schools of Theatre. The lengthy process was worth it to Ackman, who said it affirms the quality of the program.
When asked what his favorite part of working at SDSU was, Ackman had a quick response: the people. “Students, colleagues, patrons have all been critically important to me,” said Ackman. “I have worked with all sorts of people across campus and have enjoyed all those relationships from custodial staff to university administration. After all, being kind costs nothing.”
Jim Wood, the upcoming artistic director of SUTD, said Ackman was a calming force who always led with compassion and reason.
“J.D. will be missed as a daily presence in the program, but his influence will be felt for years to come,” Wood said. “There are hundreds, if not thousands, of people who cannot help but also think of him when thinking about theatre at SDSU!”
The 2022 PRT season is Ackman’s 39th season with the company, which began when he was an undergraduate student. The final show he will direct before retirement is, “The Cemetery Club,” which opens June 22. Ackman said the excitement from cast members and the talent they bring to the project is joyful.
“It is a story about friendship, forgiveness and love. It includes some very funny moments, as well as some moments that will tug at the heart strings, and sometimes both at once,” Ackman said.
Wood said audiences can expect well-developed and considered characters telling a heart-warming tale. “It's ironic that “The Cemetery Club” is about characters having a hard time moving forward after a loss. J.D. has been such an integral part of theatre at SDSU for decades—it will definitely be a challenge to figure out how to move forward without him!”
For more information about “The Cemetery Club” performance times and to purchase tickets, visit https://www.sdstate.edu/prairie-repertory-theatre.